The Status of Jerusalem
Communicated by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 18 March 1999
Jerusalem, the heart and soul of the Jewish people, plays a central role in
Jewish culture, history and religion. Since 1004 B.C.E. when King David
established Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish nation, there has
remained a constant and enduring Jewish presence in the city. Moreover,
Jewish liturgy, music, literature and poetry are replete with references to
Jerusalem, or “Zion,” the Biblical name of the city.
Holy city to three major religions, Jerusalem is the home to a unique
concentration of religious sites. Since the city was reunified under
Israeli sovereignty in 1967, the State of Israel has succeeded in
protecting the rights of all religious groups to enjoy freedom of worship,
and has restored and rebuilt Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places.
In fact, at no other time in history have worshippers of all faiths enjoyed
such a degree of religious freedom.
- The Jewish claim to Jerusalem is rooted in 3,000 years of history
- Jerusalem has been at the center of Jewish consciousness for over three
thousand years, even before King David made it the capital of his kingdom
in 1004 B.C.E. Such biblical events as the binding of Isaac and Jacob’s
ladder have traditionally been connected to Jerusalem.
No other city has played such a predominant role in the history, culture,
and religion of a people as has Jerusalem for the Jews. ‘Jerusalem’, or ‘Zion’,
is mentioned over 800 times in the Jewish Bible.
- Throughout the Diaspora, Jerusalem has always remained foremost in the
thoughts of the Jewish people as they turned to Zion three times a day in
prayer. Such everyday rituals as grace after meals or special ceremonies
such as the ‘Sheva Brachot’ wedding blessings are replete with references
to the Jewish people’s yearning for their ancient capital. On holidays and
festivals, Jews the world over bid one another the traditional farewell
“Next year in Jerusalem!”.
- Jewish independence in the land of Israel, which ended in 70 C.E. and
was renewed in 1948, marks the longest period of sovereignty over Jerusalem
by any nation. No other nation can claim such a long political existence in
the recorded history of this unique city.
- Throughout all the periods of foreign rule over Jerusalem – Roman (70
C.E. – 324), Byzantine (324 – 614), Persian (614 – 640), Arab (640 – 1099),
Crusader (1099 – 1291), Mamluk (1291 – 1516), and Ottoman Turk (1516 –
1918) – Jews were persecuted, massacred and subject to exile. In spite of
this, the Jewish presence in Jerusalem remained constant and enduring.
- Jews have always chosen to settle in Jerusalem. Since 1840, the Jews
have constituted the largest ethnic group in the city, and they have held
an uninterrupted majority in Jerusalem since the 1860’s.
- The Jewish claim to Jerusalem as their capital is unique
- There has always been a national consensus in Israel on the status of
Jerusalem. Since the reunification of the city in 1967, all Israeli
Governments have declared their policy that united Jerusalem, Israel’s
eternal capital is one indivisible city under Israeli sovereignty and that
free access to holy places and freedom of worship will continue to be
guaranteed to members of all faiths.
- Only twice has Jerusalem served as a national capital — the capital of
the Biblical Kingdoms of Israel and Judea before the Roman destruction of
70 C.E., and the capital of the modern State of Israel since the rebirth of
the Jewish state in 1948.
- Beside the Jewish people, no other nation or state which gained
political sovereignty over the area had ever made Jerusalem a capital city.
Both the Arab and Mamluk empires chose to rule from Damascus, while the
Ottoman ruler resided in Constantinople. Furthermore, none of these empires
even granted Jerusalem the status of district capital.
- Historically Jerusalem is a United City
- The nineteen year occupation of eastern Jerusalem — the only time that
the city was divided — was the result of unprovoked attack followed by
– On May 14, 1948 upon termination of the British mandate, Israel
proclaimed its independence. Immediately following Israel’s proclamation,
the surrounding Arab countries attacked the fledgling state. The Arab
Legion besieged the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
– On May 28, 1948 the Arab Legion overran the Jewish Quarter and eastern
Jerusalem, while Israel held on to the Jewish populated western
neighborhoods of the city. Jerusalem was divided for the first time in its
– In 1950, Transjordan annexed the West Bank and Jerusalem, in an act which
was neither recognized by the world community (except for two countries),
nor by the other Arab states.
- On June 5, 1967 an unprovoked Arab attack was launched on the Jewish
populated western neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Indiscriminate artillery
bombardment damaged religious sites, hospitals, and schools across the 1949
armistice line; the U.N. headquarters south of Jerusalem was seized, and
enemy troops began to enter nearby Jewish neighborhoods.
- Israeli Defense Forces repelled the invasion, and on June 7 they retook
the Old City, reuniting Jerusalem. The barbed wire and concrete barriers
which had divided Jerusalem were finally torn down, and Israeli law,
jurisdiction and administration was extended to the eastern neighborhoods
of the city.
- Jerusalem is and has always been an undivided city, except for this 19
year period. There is no justification for this short period to be viewed
as a factor in determining the future of the city, and to negate 3,000
years of unity.
- There is no basis for a ‘Corpus Separatum’ status for Jerusalem
- There is no basis in international law for the position supporting a
status of ‘Corpus Separatum’ (separate entity) for the city of Jerusalem.
This concept originated in a proposal contained in the UN General Assembly
Resolution 181 of November 1947, which dealt with the partition of the
British Mandate of Palestine.
It should be recalled that the idea was a non-binding proposal,
which never materialized, having become irrelevant when the Arab states
rejected the UN Resolution, and invaded the fledgling State of Israel.
- There has never been any agreement, treaty, or international
understanding which applies the ‘Corpus Separatum’ concept to Jerusalem.
- For these reasons, Israel views the ‘Corpus Separatum’ solution as
nothing more than one of many inappropriate historical attempts made to
examine possible solutions for the status of the city.
- Jerusalem’s Arabs and the Israel-Palestinian Negotiations
- Immediately following Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem in 1967,
Jerusalem’s Arab residents were offered full Israeli citizenship, though
most declined to accept it.
- Nevertheless, those who chose not to accept Israeli citizenship, retain
the right, as residents of the city, to participate in municipal elections
and enjoy all economic, cultural and social benefits afforded to Israeli
citizens such as Israel’s health funds, social security services, and
membership in Israel’s Labor Federation.
- The civil right of Palestinian Arabs to maintain their own non-political
humanitarian, educational and social institutions was reiterated by Israel
during the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
- However, according to the Israel-Palestinian Declaration of Principles
of 1993 – the basis of the present negotiations – political institutions of
the Palestinian self-governing authority are not to operate in the city.
- The Israeli Consensus on Jerusalem – Culturally Diverse — Politically
The status of Jerusalem as the permanent capital of the State of Israel has
been reiterated by all Israel governments since the establishment of the
State in 1948:
- In 1949, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, acted to
reconstitute the seat of government in Jerusalem, and Israel’s Parliament,
the Knesset, was reconvened in the city in December of that year.
- Following the reunification of Jerusalem during the course of the 1967
Six Day War, together with the extension of Israeli jurisdiction and
administration over east Jerusalem, the Knesset passed the Preservation of
the Holy Places Law, 1967 which ensured protection and freedom of access to
the holy sites of the city.
- In 1980, the Knesset legislated the ‘Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of
Israel’, which restates the position that “Jerusalem, complete and united,
is the capital of Israel” and the seat of its main governing bodies.
It also reiterates Israel’s commitment to protecting the holy places and to
developing the city.
- On May 28, 1995, then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated:
“In 1980, the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law. All governments of
Israel, including the present government, have been fully confident that what
was determined in 1967, what was legislated in 1980 transforming Jerusalem
into a unified city under Israeli sovereignty, the capital of Israel, the heart of the
Jewish people — these are facts that will endure for eternity”.
The status of Jerusalem is unique. Politically and spiritually, Jerusalem
was, is and always will be the capital of the Jewish people.
Yet, at the same time, it plays a significant role in the religious identity
of hundreds of millions of believers in the monotheistic faiths. The Arab
world views Jerusalem as one — albeit not the most significant — of their
holy places. Furthermore, while almost three-quarters of Jerusalem’s
citizens are Jewish, many Palestinian Arabs also call the city their home.
For these reasons, Israel has agreed to address Jerusalem-related issues in
the permanent status phase of the current peace negotiations.
In conclusion, in light of the unique significance that the city of
Jerusalem holds for the Jewish people, the Israeli government has
consistently reiterated its position that while religious and cultural
rights of all the city’s communities must be guaranteed — Jerusalem is and
will remain the capital of the State of Israel, undivided, under exclusive
UN General Assembly Resolution 181
Letter from Israel Representative to the United Nations
Ambassador Dore Gold to UN Secretary-General Annan
30 March 1999
H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan Secretary-General The United Nations New York
I refer to the letter addressed to you from the Palestinian Permanent
Observer dated 25 March 1999, A/53/879-S/1999/334, concerning General
Assembly Resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947.
UN General Assembly Resolution 181 was made null and void by the Arab
states and the Palestinian leadership in the aftermath of its adoption on
29 November 1947. In statement after statement on the floor of the General
Assembly, representatives of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia not only
refused to comply with its recommendations but also subsequently admitted
to the use of armed force to overthrow its provisions.
With the termination of the British Mandate over Palestine on 14 May 1948,
the armies of seven Arab states illegally attacked the newly born State of
Israel. UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie termed this act “the first armed
aggression which the world had seen since the end of the [Second World]
It should be noted that the Arab League actually included the
rejection of the General Assembly Resolution of 29 November as a formal
justification for its invasion.
The United Nations Palestine Commission, in its report to the Security
Council on 16 February 1948, viewed the armed Arab invasion as an act
intended to nullify Resolution 181:
“Organized efforts are being made by strong Arab elements inside and
outside Palestine to prevent the implementation of the Assembly’s plan of
partition and to thwart its objectives by threats and acts of violence, including
armed incursions into Palestinian territory… This commission now finds itself
confronted with an attempt to defeat its purposes, and to nullify a resolution of
the General Assembly.”
The war imposed on Israel was particularly difficult for Jerusalem. By the
end of May 1948, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City had fallen. Its
residents were expelled. Ancient synagogues had been destroyed or
desecrated. The rest of Jerusalem was put under siege and surrounded by
invading armies on three sides. Only the convoys of the newly formed Israel
Defense Forces provided food and water to Jerusalem’s residents. No UN body
took any action to protect Jerusalem at this critical time.
For these reasons, Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion stated
before the Knesset on 3 December 1949:
“Thus we can no longer regard the UN Resolution of 29th November as
having any moral force. After the UN failed to implement is own resolution, we
regard the resolution of the 29th November concerning Jerusalem to be null and
The fundamental act of international illegality was the invasion of the
nascent State of Israel and the attempt to overturn a resolution of the
General Assembly with armed force. That is why those seeking to critique
Israel’s position on the status of Resolution 181 are misdirected.
For in fact, Resolution 181 was made irrelevant by the actions of the
Arab states and the Palestinian leadership in 1948, whose refusal to accept the
resolution altered the circumstances in the Middle East on which it was
By early 1949, with their invasion thwarted, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and
Transjordan entered into armistice agreements with the State of Israel.
These agreements made no mention of 181. Similarly, UN Security Council
Resolution 73 of 11 August 1949, which endorsed the armistice, made no
reference to 181. In short, from the perspective of Israel, Resolution 181
had been overtaken by the events of 1947-49.
In order to respond to the new realities that emerged in the years and
decades following the Partition Resolution, the United Nations abandoned
the proposals contained in Resolution 181.
In its place, the UN Security Council adopted Resolutions 242 and 338
which provided a radically different formula for the settlement of the conflict.
Indeed, this is the only formula that has been accepted by all concerned as the
basis for permanent status negotiations.
In contrast, Resolution 181 has never been part of the agreed foundation
for the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The letters of
invitation to the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991, and the Oslo Agreements
signed between Israel and the PLO expressly provide that permanent status
negotiations are to be based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
No other United Nations resolution is cited. The Palestinians have thus
affirmed that a permanent resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
will be achieved by a negotiated settlement in West Bank and Gaza Strip
territory that is the subject of those Security Council resolutions.
The resurrection of Resolution 181 by the PLO is a transparent effort to
belatedly derive benefit from a resolution which the Palestinian leadership
itself violently rejected 50 years ago. Repeated references to Resolution
181 are, moreover, part of an effort to completely alter the agreed terms
of reference of the Arab-Israeli peace agreements, and thereby put the
entire peace process at risk.
Finally, it seeks to broaden the parameters of the discussion of
Jerusalem far beyond what was ever conceived in the Oslo Accords. Let it be
clear that in any future discussions over the status of Jerusalem, the position of
the Government of Israel remains firm that Jerusalem will continue to be the
undivided capital of Israel.
These attempts to revive the defunct Resolution 181 can be added to a
worrying list of recent Palestinian efforts to depart from the agreed peace
process framework. These efforts include threats to unilaterally declare a
Palestinian state, in violation of repeated Palestinian undertakings to
refrain from unilateral acts that alter the status of the territories
pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations (Interim Agreement:
Article XXXI:7). They involve also Palestinian Authority activity in
Jerusalem which is expressly prohibited by the provisions of the
Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (Article I:7).
If the peace process is to have any chance of success, the Palestinian
side cannot be permitted to discard legal obligations whenever it is politically
convenient to do so.
The international community must insist that the Palestinians comply
with the peace process framework to which they are committed and adhere to
the legal undertakings they themselves have made.
I should be grateful if you would have this letter circulated as a document
of the General Assembly under Agenda item 43 in the preliminary list of
items to be included in the agenda of the fifty-fourth regular session of
the General Assembly, and of the Security Council.
Please accept Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
(signed) Ambassador Dore Gold Permanent Representative of Israel