Whose Capital is Jerusalem?

Who Owns Jerusalem – Whose Capital is it?

Jerusalem is perhaps the most contested city in the world, and the question ‘Who owns Jerusalem?’ is much debated. Who’s capital is it? The international community (the UN, the US and the EU) maintains that Jerusalem should be the capital of two states: Israel and Palestine, link

Jerusalem must be the capital of both Israel and Palestine [UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 28 October 2009]
As far as the US government is concerned, Jerusalem is not a part of Israel [US Supreme Court, June 2015]

That said, things may change under a new US government:

The president is giving serious consideration to moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem [Mike Pence, US Vice President, March 2017]

Whilst Congress approved an Embassy move in 1995, previous administrations have suspended it. Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would “love to see that (a move) happen”. But it would signal that the US is perhaps recognizing the importance of Jerusalem to Israel, and so could be destabilizing.

Clearly, there is confusion and political correctness in the western nations, and not even America or the UN can find a political solution to the Jerusalem problem. This impasse is foretold in end-time prophecy:

I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all the peoples; all who would heave it away will be cut in pieces (Zech 12.2,3)

In contrast to the western view, Israel argues that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish State. Israel’s strong case is based on the historical connection of the Jews to Israel, Bible prophecy, and the actual legal position based upon the 1920 San Remo Resolution, the 1922 League of Nations Mandate, and Article 80 of the UN Charter. Consequently, Israel proclaimed Jerusalem to be her capital shortly after the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948:

Whereas with establishment of the State of Israel, Jerusalem once more becomes the capital
[ Knesset, 1950 ]

The Status of Jerusalem in International Law

Let’s summarize the essential legal background concerning Jerusalem:

  • 1920: The San Remo Peace Conference gave Britain a provisional ‘Mandate for Palestine’ based upon the Balfour declaration
  • 1922: The British Mandate was formalized in September 1922 by the Council of the League of Nations. The revised Mandate for Palestine defined the boundary of Jewish Palestine as west of the river Jordan. That included Jerusalem and today’s ‘West Bank’. The mandated territory was in effect reserved to the Jewish people for their self-determination and political development [Prof. Eugene V. Rostow, Professor Emeritus at Yale Law School]
  • The 1949 Green Line divided Jerusalem

  • 1946: The League of Nations was dissolved and its assets and duties transferred to the United Nations (UN). So the Trust (the Mandate for Palestine) was transferred over to the UN, and UN Article 80 of the UN Charter implicitly recognizes the ‘Mandate for Palestine’ of the League of Nations. In other words, the UN implicitly reaffirmed the 1922 Mandate and Article 80 preserved the mandated rights of the Jewish people. Under the Mandate, Jerusalem cannot be divided and Jews still have the legal right to settle anywhere in Mandated land [Dr Jaques Gauthier, international human rights lawyer]. That includes all of Jerusalem!
  • 1947: The 1947 UN Resolution 181 called for Jerusalem to be an international city (‘corpus separatum’). But it never held any force under international law because it was rejected by the Arab side
  • 1949: UN Security Council Resolution 62 called for implementation of armistice agreements and as a result Israel’s “borders” were re-established along the so-called “Green Line”. This UN armistice line largely reflected the ceasefire lines of 1949. The Green Line divided Jerusalem. The entire Old City was in Jordanian territory, whilst the west of the city was within Israeli territory, link. Note that this division simply arose from the invasion of Israel by Arab armies.

The Red Herring of the Green Line

who owns Jerusalem

Jerusalem Old City. Image: Chmouel GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Today there are frequent International and Palestinian calls based on the 1967 UN Resolution 242 for Israel to withdraw from ‘occupied land’ and return to the ‘pre-1967’ borders – a reference to the 1949 Armistice Green Line which divided Jerusalem. Specifically, these so-called ‘borders’ of Israel did not embrace East Jerusalem. But such calls are inconsistent with the true legal position. Drafters of Resolution 242 made it quite clear that the 1949 Armistice Green Line is not Israel’s legal border:

  • The armistice lines of 1948 were intended to be temporary … this, or course, was particularly true of Jerusalem. At no time … did I refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory [Arthur Goldberg, a drafter of UN Resolution 242]
  • It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial [Lord Caradon, British Ambassador, a drafter of UN resolution 242]
  • The armistice agreements of 1949 expressly preserved the territorial claims of all parties and did not purport to establish definitive boundaries between them [Prof. Judge Schwebel, former President of the International Court of Justice]

To re-iterate, Jordan occupied both East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1948-49 war and only gained these areas via war and the Green Line of the UN armistice. These areas had never formally been allocated to Jordan and so were strictly unallocated Palestine Mandate territory. Later, between 1949 and 1967 Jordan simply attempted illegal annexation of this newly gained territory, but then in 1988 Jordan formally renounced any claim to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Eminent legal scholars, such as Prof. Eugene Rostow therefore maintain that Israeli settlers have as much right to live in the West Bank (and therefore Jerusalem) as non-Jews. He states:

Under international law, neither Jordan nor the Palestinian Arab people of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have a substantial claim to the sovereign possession of the occupied territories. The West Bank should be considered ‘unallocated territory’

The Israeli Government follows this argument and denies that the occupation of the West Bank (and East Jerusalem) is illegal on the grounds that the land was not previously occupied lawfully by any other state.

So on the question ‘Who owns Jerusalem?’ we have to go back to solid legal ground: the 1920 San Remo Resolution, the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine (ratified by 51 members of the League of Nations) and Article 80 of the UN Charter (which enshrines all obligations of the League of Nations), link. Essentially, these articles state that the Jewish homeland includes the Gaza strip and the Golan Heights, plus Judea and Samaria, today’s ‘West Bank’. After spending twenty years investigating the legal aspects of Jerusalem’s sovereignty, international human rights lawyer Dr Jacques Gautier concludes, link, link:

According to international law, Israel has a well-founded claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem, including its Old City …
rights have been granted to the Jewish people in respect to Jerusalem: that they’re entitled to have sovereignty here …
the rights vested in the Jewish people stand on very solid legal ground and are valid to this day
Under Article 80 and the 1922 Mandate, Jerusalem cannot be divided …
[Dr Jacques Gautier, author ‘Sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem’, link]

UN Resolutions have Zero Legal Meaning when it comes to Jerusalem

Can the UN change sovereignty? Legally, no! Gautier maintains that, under Article 80 and the 1922 Mandate, Jerusalem cannot be divided and that Jews still have the legal right to settle anywhere in mandated land (i.e. west of the Jordan). He states that “in international law, once the title to Palestine was given to the Jewish people, this cannot be nullified retroactively as a result of the introduction of new principles of international law several decades later”. So it is claimed that none of the UN resolutions passed since the San Remo Conference can renounce the Jewish claim to a united Jerusalem. The 1967 war and the strong Israeli measures for changing the reality on the ground in the direction of irreversible ‘ownership’ of Jerusalem have now brought the UN to a defensive mode of approach, hoping unsuccessfully to stop the Israeli claims, link.

Historical Connections of Jews to Jerusalem

The Name: The early name for Jerusalem (in Hebrew pronounced yer-oo-shaw-law-yimthe) is mentioned in the first book of the Jewish Torah (Gen 14.18), when Melchizedek was king of Salem. Salem (which is clearly linked to Zion or Jerusalem in Ps 76.2) is from a Hebrew word (pronounced shaw-lame) which came to mean peace. This text alone is highly significant: Melchizedek, whose name means ‘king of righteousness’, was a priest of ancient Jerusalem and a human type of Jesus Christ who will soon rule as righteous king from the future Jerusalem, a place of peace.

So here we have a strong Jewish link to Jerusalem, written c1445 BC, link, and well before other national claims to Jerusalem. In fact, historic Jerusalem is mentioned 809 times in the Bible, beginning with Joshua 10:1 and ending with Galatians 4:25, link, whilst it is claimed Jerusalem is not even mentioned in the Koran, link, link.

Mount Moriah: This provides another strong historical connection of the Jews to Jerusalem. Mount Moriah is an elongated ridge in Jerusalem’s Old City and the top of the Mount is near the Muslim Dome of the Rock, link. The bedrock here is where Abraham would have walked when he came up to sacrifice Isaac around 1800 BC (Gen 22). It is also believed to be the actual site of the altar of burnt offering in Solomon’s Temple. So historically, Mount Moriah in Jerusalem has been the place of Jewish sacrifice for some 2,000 years.

King David: Around 1405 BC, men of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it (Judges 1.8), and King David conquered Jerusalem in 1052 BC (1 Chron 11.4-9). David built Jerusalem into a great city and capital of Israel (2 Sam 5.6-9) and he reigned there for 33 years. So Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for over 3000 years.

legal title to Jerusalem

A model of Herod’s Temple, Wikimedia Commons. Enlarge

The Temples: The historic links of Jerusalem with the people of Israel are further strengthened by the fact that the city has been the site of two Jewish temples. The first, Solomon’s Temple, was completed in 957 BC but destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587/586 BC. It was restored (in inferior form) by exiled Jews who were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and restoration was completed around 515 BC, link.

The Second Temple was modest in size until it, and the whole Temple Mount area, was enlarged by King Herod. It was in this enlarged Second Jewish Temple where Jesus threw out the money changers, and it was this enlarged temple that was destroyed by Titus in 70 AD. The traditional location of the First and Second Temples lies in the immediate vicinity of the present-day Dome of the Rock, link, and the Western Wall is the western retaining wall of King Herod’s expanded Temple Mount.


This wealth of Jewish history associated with Jerusalem has, on its own, led to the claim that the Jewish people have a right to their ancestral homeland and ancient capital city in Jerusalem. It is endorsed by the fact that the Jewish people never relinquished their historic claims to the area [Ernst Frankenstein, authority on international law, link, link]. In fact, the 1922 Palestine Mandate itself recognized the historical connections, stating:

recognition is thereby given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country, link

World Views on Jerusalem

The Islamic Position

We will never accept a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital [Palestinian leadership]

The facts are that Jerusalem has been a Jewish holy city since the days of King David, and the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem (the site of two Jewish Temples) is the holiest site in Judaism. But in 638 AD the Muslims captured Jerusalem from the Byzantines and built the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Jewish Temple. So is the Temple Mount an Islamic holy site too? How important is this site to the Muslim?

For some Muslims the Mount is widely considered to be the third holiest site in Islam. But why is it even the ‘third’? The word ‘Jerusalem’ is not even mentioned in the Quran, but it is mentioned 667 times in the Bible! And while Jews pray facing the Temple Mount, Muslims pray towards Mecca! The following video shows how differently Muslims and Jews treat the Temple Mount:

The Western Political Position

Under the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, Jerusalem’s status was to be that of ‘corpus separatum’, inferring a ‘separate’ city with a special legal and political status due to its shared religious importance. The 1947 plan failed and today the international view prefers a two-state solution, with Jerusalem the capital of both Israel and Palestine, link:

Jerusalem must be the capital of both Israel and Palestine [UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 28 October 2009]

This view (which is also held by the EU, link) is based on the pre-1967 borders (when Israel did not hold East Jerusalem). The view of individual western countries also denies Israel’s ownership of Jerusalem. In 1994 the UK Government stated, “the British Government does not recognize Israeli sovereignty of any part of Jerusalem” [Malcolm Palmer, Private Secretary to the British Prime Minister]. And in answer to the question: “Is it the view of the United States that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel?“, the US State Department replied:

We are not going to prejudge the outcome of negotiations, including the final status of Jerusalem
[Victoria Nuland, March 2012]

Just a few years later, the US hardened its position, link:

As far as the US government is concerned, Jerusalem is not a part of Israel [US Supreme Court, June 2015]

Clearly, there is confusion and political correctness in the western nations, and not even America or the UN can find a political solution to the Jerusalem problem. This scenario is foretold in end-time prophecy:

I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all the peoples; all who would heave it away will be cut in pieces
(Zech 12.2,3)

The Official Church Position

Although the World Council of Churches (WCC) supports the numerous UN Resolutions against Israel, the prime mover is the Vatican. For instance, the Vatican has claims on Jerusalem real-estate. Vatican officials are now reiterating their demand for control over Jerusalem’s religious sites. Currently, the site known as King David’s Tomb is the Vatican’s major target.

The Biblical View on Jerusalem

The Bible is quite clear – Jerusalem is the city of the Jews and the city of the God of Israel:

Thus says the LORD, I will return to Zion and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth … for the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem
(Zech 8.3, Isa 2.3)
For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest … you shall be called Hephzibah … for the LORD delights in you
(Isa 62.1,4)
And the Lord will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem
(Zech 2.12)

Recall that Zion was originally a Jebusite stronghold located in or near Jerusalem, link. Biblically, Zion refers to ancient Jerusalem – the City of David (2 Sam 5.7), or to the present-day Old City of Jerusalem, or to the future, eternal, symbolic Jerusalem (Heb 12.22). So these prophecies clearly show that present-day Jerusalem has just ONE owner – the God of Israel; He ‘delights’ in her, He ‘chooses her’ and He ‘will dwell there’. The nations should take note: God commands them to be silent over these matters (Zech 2.13).

Despite the world’s claims on Jerusalem, the truth still stands:
Jerusalem is the LORD’s city and has a glorious future on this earth when Christ returns to live and reign there … see Jerusalem’s Future


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