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What is Jerusalem?

Israel’s current capital, which Palestinians claim part of for their future capital, is home to holy sites for both Judaism and Islam.

Jerusalem cityscape
Corbis via Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Jerusalem is a city that straddles the border between Israel and the West Bank. It’s home to some of the holiest sites in both Judaism and Islam, and so both Israel and Palestine want to make it their capital. How to split the city fairly remains one of the fundamental issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians — and on December 6, President Donald Trump weighed in on Israel’s side.

For the first 20 years of Israel’s existence, Jerusalem was divided. Israel controlled the parts of Jerusalem and its suburbs inside the red dotted line on this map, while Jordan controlled everything outside of it (blue dotted lines separate Jerusalem proper from suburbs):

jerusalem pre-67 BBC

Jordan controlled the Temple Mount, a hill in the map’s brown splotch. The hill hosts the Western Wall, a retaining wall of an ancient Jewish temple and one of Judaism’s holiest sites, and two of Islam’s most important landmarks, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Israeli Jews weren’t allowed to pray in the area while Jordan controlled it. During the 1967 war, Israel took control of East Jerusalem.

Israel calls Jerusalem its undivided capital today, but almost no countries recognizes it as such. UN Security Council Resolution 478 condemns Israel’s decision to annex East Jerusalem as a violation of international law and calls for a compromise solution.

The United States consistently refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, believing that a formal announcement could spark violence and would fatally undermine the US’ position as an honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians. President Trump decided to change that longstanding position in December. The new American policy recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin the process of moving the embassy, but still allows for negotiations over what parts of the city would be permanently Israeli and what parts would be given to Palestine in the event of a peace agreement.

Assuming Trump’s policy doesn’t completely derail any chances for a peace process, there are still serious practical issues surrounding the division of Jerusalem. Not only is there an issue of ensuring Israeli and Palestinian access to the holy sites, but Jews have moved in and around Jerusalem in huge numbers. They now make up about two-thirds of the city:

jerusalem now BBC

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