It’s a simple question – what is the capital of Israel? – but the answer depends who you ask. For the Israeli government, it’s simple: Jerusalem.
Since the annexation of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War gave Israel complete control of the Holy City, the Israeli government has been seeking formal international recognition of a united Jerusalem as the country’s capital.
However, Palestinian nationalists consider East Jerusalem the rightful capital of an independent Palestine and a crucial plank of any future peace negotiations.
To avoid inflaming tensions or compromising future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian territories over the city’s status, the US and other countries have their embassies in Tel Aviv.
A handful, including the UK, operate a secondary consulate in Jerusalem, but these are classed as diplomatic missions to “Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories” rather than Israel.
That looks like it could be about to change.
In 1995, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act pledging to move its embassy to the Holy City. Implementation of the act has been blocked by successive presidents on “national security” grounds for the past 22 years.
In June, there was some speculation that Trump – a vocal supporter of Israel – might choose not to issue another six-month waiver, but he ultimately did so.
However, that waiver expired at midnight on 6 December with no news of a renewal, prompting many analysts to conclude that the US will formally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
What happens if the embassy moves?
The diplomatic adviser to the president of the Palestinian territories, Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian leadership “would cut contact with the US if it recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital”, Al Jazeera reports.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that US recognition of Israel’s claims to a united Jerusalem is a ‘red line’ for Muslims, while both Jordan and Turkey have warned of “dire consequences” if the US embassy moves, says The Washington Post.
Some even predict violence. The Jerusalem Post reports that Sultan Abu al-Einein, a senior member of the Fatah Central Committee, believes “any American act of stupidity will ignite the Palestinian territories”.
“We must prepare for a confrontation with the new US administration,” he said. “Israel and the US will bear responsibility for the return of the bloodshed in the Palestinian territories.”