What does Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital mean for the city’s status?

Click to play video: 'Atmosphere subdued in west Jerusalem market'
Atmosphere subdued in west Jerusalem market
WATCH ABOVE: While there may have been an angry conversation or two in a west Jerusalem market, all seemed very subdued. Jeff Semple reports – Dec 10, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump surprised leaders around the world on Wednesday when he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but this declaration doesn’t mean changes to the status of the city just yet.

Trump deferred the construction of an embassy in Jerusalem for another six months

In announcing that Jerusalem would be home to a U.S. embassy, Trump recognized the 1995 decision by Congress called the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Israeli parliament currently designates the united city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital after annexing the region in 1967.

An associate professor at the University of Ottawa, Costanza Musu, explains that in enacting this decision, Trump recognizes this to be true in American law as well.

See Global News coverage of Donald Trump’s announcement: 

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“Under Israeli law, [Jerusalem is] the capital of Israel,” Musu, who works in the graduate department of international affairs, states. “What Trump does with his declaration is to say, ‘Well, we’re recognizing in American law as well,’ which is what the 1995 Congress decision was about.”

However, since the act was passed, Musu adds that each president over the past two decades has waived that decision twice per year for fear of the international reaction, given the complex diplomatic state of the region.

See Global News coverage of Donald Trump’s announcement: 

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“The reason it’s been postponed is that every president has felt that there was the potential for a major conflagration of the kind that we’re seeing yesterday and today [Saturday and Sunday], if the United States were to formally announce the moving of the embassy,” Musu said.

Musu explains that Trump too signed the same waiver shortly after making the announcement, once again deferring the construction of an embassy in Jerusalem for another six months.

American diplomats say Jerusalem’s status remains the same

In addition to the waiver, American diplomats have referred frequently to Trump declining to specify between West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem in his announcement.

West Jerusalem is largely accepted by the international community to be Israeli sovereign territory, while East Jerusalem is not officially recognized in the same light. The conflict largely stems from both the Israeli government and the Palestinians claiming East Jerusalem as their capital.

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In failing to specify between East and West, Musu explained that several parties may have interpreted his statements as an endorsement of Israel’s claim to the whole of Jerusalem. Trump later said that the final status of Jerusalem must be determined between the two parties.

American diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, maintain that Trump’s statements do not attempt to determine the final status of Jerusalem.

“The United States is not predetermining final status issues. We remain committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement. We support a two-state solution if agreed to by the parties,” Haley said at an emergency UN meeting called to discuss the announcement.

Several countries added to the international discord caused by Trump’s declaration. Egyptian ambassador Abdellatif Aboulatta stated, “We’d also like to stress that such unilateral decisions is a violation of international legitimacy and thus it has no impact on the legal status of Jerusalem since it is a city under occupation.”

Musu adds that diplomats maintain that the status and borders of Jerusalem have to be determined by the Israelis and the Palestinians.

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However, professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University, Heribert Adam, adds in an email statement that while Trump’s announcement does not change the status of Jerusalem immediately, it will provide leverage for Israeli negotiations going forward.

“In the foreseeable future, there will be neither a two-state solution or a one-state solution, but a cementing of the status quo with Israel being able to dictate further settlement expansion and reduction of Palestinian rights, despite rhetorical protests from world leaders.”

One country’s recognition is not enough to change international law

Lastly, Musu explained that while Jerusalem may be recognized as the capital of Israel under both Israeli law and American law, this is not enough to change international law.

“There are two ways that international law can be generated. You can have a treaty, and you can have customary law. In order to have customary laws, you have to have a certain amount of states that actually act in a certain way and feel literally obligated to act,” Musu said.

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As defined by Cornell University, customary international law refers to “international obligations arising from established state practice, as opposed to obligations arising from formal written international treaties.” There is no internationally-recognized treaty which states that West Jerusalem is under Israeli law.

“One state moving the embassy, even if it’s the United States, would not be sufficient to create customary law,” she added.

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