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Moscow Statement Endorses West Jerusalem As Israeli Capital


Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow on March 9.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow on March 9.

In what is being hailed by Israeli media as an "unexpected, unprecedented, and curious move," Russia has said it envisions West Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The Russian Foreign Ministry statement on April 6 appears to represent a shift in Russian policy.

Previously, Moscow has formally stated that Jerusalem should be under permanent international control.

In stating its support for a two-state solution to the long-standing conflict, the Foreign Ministry wrote: "We reaffirm our commitment to the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.* Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and declared all of the city as its capital, a move never recognized by the international community.

Under the partition plan of 1948, Jerusalem was designated as a "special international regime" under United Nations administration, although the policy was never put into effect.

In 1995, the U.S. Jerusalem Embassy Act recognized the city as the capital of Israel, but that law was also never put into effect. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama did not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, claiming the congressional act infringed on the executive branch's authority over foreign policy.

Although Israel considers Jerusalem its capital, nearly all foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv as countries have refrained from recognizing that status until it is agreed in future peace talks.

The Russian statement could be seen as a mixed blessing for Israel.

On one hand, Israel has a stated goal of having Jerusalem recognized as its capital. On the other hand, it sees the entire city as its capital, not just the western portion.

The future of Jerusalem's status is a sensitive issue and has come under the spotlight since U.S. President Donald Trump suggested he might move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would be a tacit recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington in February, Trump said he'd "love" to see the embassy moved to Jerusalem, adding that "we're looking at that very, very strongly."

Trump’s announcement angered Palestinians and their allies, and the U.S. president has subsequently backed off the suggestion.

The Times of Israel said it regarded the Russian statement as an "unexpected, unprecedented, and curious move."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry was taken aback by the statement.

"We are studying the matter," the paper quoted a ministry spokesman as saying.

The Times wrote: "Recognizing only the western part of it would appear to deny Israel's claims to the eastern part, including the Old City, which it captured in 1967 and subsequently annexed."

The Jerusalem Post called it a "surprise" announcement.

It reported that Russia’s ambassador to Israel will meet with Foreign Ministry officials in the coming days to discuss the announcement. It said there is no plan to move Russia’s embassy to Jerusalem at this time.

With reporting by The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, and AP
* This story was amended to clarify that Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as their capital.
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