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The word “Israel” has a complex history. If we go back in time, originally it was used to indicate one of the two kingdoms that came into existence after the fall of the Unite Monarchies of Saul, David and Salomon.

A brief history 

In the South, the house of David ruled Jerusalem and the Judah kingdom whereas in the North the kingdom of Israel was born. Its capital was called Samaria. Despite the fact that Israel was a powerful state it was never able to face the power of Assyria. Part of the population was deported to the east.

The southern part, Judah, was never fully occupied by Assyrians and after the fall of it and the rise of Babylonia, Jerusalem was also captured and Judah became part of the monarchy. Again, majority of the population was deported to the east. This exile is of a fundamental significance: from now on the inhabitants of Judah used the word Israel to describe themselves even if they had always called themselves Judaeans. 

The city of Jerusalem has a very important significance for both Muslims and Jews. The question of Jerusalem in general represents one of the most fundamental and significant issues of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. For Palestinians, East Jerusalem, al-Quds, is considered to be the capital of the future Palestinian state whereas for Israelis, the entirety of Jerusalem, Yerushalayim is the unique and indivisible capital of the Jewish state.

The dispute has social, economic, political and religious implications and there is very little sign of peace agreements. This article take as base the fact that the Israeli policy of severing political, economic and social links between the West Bank and East Jerusalem has caused a serious deterioration in Palestinian living conditions.1

This article has the purpose to show, after a brief historical background, that also third actors like the European Union and the International Community can have a voice and play an active role in the conflict. Often it is analyzed only in its bipolarity (Palestinians vs. Jews) forgiving the role of international organizations in shaping the understanding of the phenomena.

Starting by the fun dative UN Resolutions the aim of the article is to give an overview on which are the International Community and the European Union positions to the topic.
The conclusive part state that effective actions are needed in order to guarantee to the city and to its citizens a peaceful coexistence. 

The British Mandate 

For the British, Jerusalem was vital. They wanted to establish it as the capital of Israel. The three decades of British rule saw an influx of Jewish people inspired by Zionist vision of a Jewish Homeland. Jerusalem, according to Zionists is the symbol of diaspora where Christians and Muslims holy sites were seen as obstacles to the establishment of Jerusalem as capital.

Many of this Zionists were secular European socialists inspired by concerns about nationalism and willing to escape from religious persecutions. Along with the came into being of Zionism, Arabs started to feel the frustration to not be part anymore of the Ottoman Empire and they were trying to reorder their society and to give sense to their identity. 

A divided City 

Between 1948 and 1967 Jerusalem was a divided city. It was controlled by Israel in the western part and by Jordan in the eastern part. The Six Days War in 1967 dramatically changed the situation because Israel occupied the eastern part of the city as well as the majority of its suburban neighborhoods.

This action went effectively against international law and was confirmed by several United National General Assembly and Security Council Resolutions which defined the eastern part of the city as an inalienable part of Occupied Palestinian territory. In 1949 the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in such occupied territories is fully applicable to the inhabitants of East Jerusalem. 2 The fact that Israel considers Arab living in East Jerusalem as “permanent residents” highlight the fact that Arab are viewed as foreign citizens that choose voluntarily to reside in the country and not as its own legitimate citizens. 

Two different views 

Israeli Concept of Yerushalayim 

Jerusalem is sacred to Judaism by virtues of the Temple Mount which was the site of three important Jewish Temples. For Jewish, Jerusalem is the most sacred place in the world. This is explained by the presence of the Divinity (Shechinah). According to Jewish tradition, Jerusalem was the location of the foundation stone from which the world was created and where Abraham prepared sacrifice towards his son. Jews believe that the Dome of Rock is the site of the Holy of Holies. 

Jerusalem is the city of choice where God chose to dwell forever on the Temple Mount. The most important historical factor and the key element in order to understand Jewish claims is the exile from the Land of Israel by the Babylonians (585BCE). By this moment Jews used to remember Jerusalem forever until they will returned to their holy home. 

Palestinian concept of al-Quds 

For Muslims Jerusalem is also sacred. The Temple Mount, which they call the “Haram-al-Sharif” was the rock by which the Prophet Muhammad rose to heaven and met with Allah. Muslims also believe that this is the center of the world and the starting point of creation. Around the rock they build the Dome of the Rock in order to commemorate Prophet Muhammad’s ascent to heaven and also other five mosques.

For Palestinians, the Haram-al Sharif is also a national symbol because Muslim see the easter part of Jerusalem as an occupied territory which in the future should be place under sovereignty and become the capital city. 

Israel gaining control of west Jerusalem 

In 1947 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution the “Partition Plan” regarding the future of Palestine. The resolution aimed to divide Palestine into two states: Jews and Arab with the exception of Jerusalem. Despite the resolution, Jordan and Israel signed a special agreement regarding Mount Scopus.

The agreement stipulated that the Jewish enclave and the Augusta Victoria Hospital become a neutral territory under UN protection. Israeli civilian police were allowed to guard the Hospital on the mount and the guards would be replaced from time to time by a convoy escorted by the United Nations, which would be allowed to pass through the area under Jordanian control. On November 30 the Green Line was established: Col. Moshe Dayan and Gen. Abdullah al-Tal, signed a cease fire agreement delimiting the Israeli and the Jordanian positions. 

Israel gaining control of east Jerusalem 

In 1967 the Six Day War broke out: the Jordanians opened fire along the municipal border of Jerusalem and a battle took pace on the Tel el-Ful hilltop. On June 7 IDF forces broke into the Old City and took control with the goal and the duty to compete the process of Israel’s gain of possession of Jordanian Jerusalem. At the end Israel applied its laws to east Jerusalem and unified the city. On June 1967 the Knesset issued the Law of Administration Ordinance (Amendment No.11) Law, 5727- stating that the law, jurisdiction, and administration of the state shall extend to any area of Eretz Yisrael designated by the government by order.”

Resolutions and the International community position

The position of the international community is based on several UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions: 181, 242, 252, 476, 478. The 181 Resolution of the General Assembly inaugurated the United National Partition Plan (1948) which established Jerusalem as a corpus separatum and gives to it an international status.

In 1967 with the resolution number 242 there is the claim for the withdrawal of Israel from territories occupied in the 1967 Six Days war. In 1968 with Res. 252 there is the urgency to refrain Israel from the unification of Jerusalem and in 1980 with Res. 476 there is the call on Israel to desist from altering the character of the Holy City and to stop implementing legislative measures that in some way could modify its status. Finally with Res. 478 in 1980 there is the censure of the Jerusalem Law that considered Jerusalem as the unique capital of the State of Israel.

Despite all the intense work on producing these resolutions, Israel refused to observe any of these measures lamenting that they lack of legal basis. In particular the 1947 resolution is not considered binding at all. Res. 242 is the most significant for the future of the state of Palestine because it confirmed East Jerusalem as the capital of the future State of Palestine. This resolution represents the base for the Oslo Accords. 

Jewish claims on Jerusalem are rejected and not supported also by the international community that both the facto and de iure do not recognize united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In order to support this concept, the United Nations had developed a thesis by which Jerusalem is conceived as an occupied territory illegally annexed by Israel from Jordan. We can analyze four main opinions and trends regarding the status of Jerusalem in terms of International law. 

  1. Many Israeli and foreign jurists argue that the British mandate in Palestine created a vacuum in political power. This vacuum was filled by Arab’s claims and the war against the Jewish State violating the Partition Plan. 
  2. The second idea states that sovereignty over Jerusalem is pending: no one yet has determined who is going to rule in the western part. The issue will be tackled only if Israel and Arab states will reach an agreement. 
  3. The Palestinians are the legitimate sovereign in the western part since the period of the British mandate 
  4. The status of Jerusalem is determined solely by the United Nations Partition Resolution and it must be 
    understood as a corpus separatum under international rule. United Nations have the duty to administer it. 

Actually, the entire world, expect Russia, United States and Czech Republic continued to refuse the recognition of the West part of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 

European Union position regarding the status of Jerusalem 

Initially, European countries were heavily influenced by the Vatican’s position. During 1947-48 they supported territorial internationalization of Jerusalem because this was necessary to protect Holy Places. In 1970 these countries made the nine European Community member states (November 6).

They called on Israel to stop its rule over east Jerusalem and since then the European community joined all the United Nations resolutions and positions on the topic. In 1980 the European community published the Venice Declaration recognizing: “the special importance of the role played by the question of Jerusalem for all the parties concerned […] they will not accept any unilateral initiative designed to change the status of Jerusalem. […] Any agreement on the city’s status should guarantee freedom of access for everyone to the holy places”. 
The European Council met in 1980 declared that  “the Venice Declaration contains the essential elements of a comprehensive, just, and lasting settlement that the parties must achieve through negotiations.”

The European Council which met in Dublin in 1990 states that Israel’s settlement policy in the occupied territories represent a growing obstacles to peace in the region. In 1999 it become even more clear and evident the the European Union did not even recognize Israel’s legitimacy in its claims in west Jerusalem.

In the years that followed however, the European Union abandoned the solution of the internationalization of Jerusalem and adopted a new attitude: Jerusalem should be the capital of the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. This position is well known as the “vision of two states for two people”. In more concrete terms, Jerusalem should be divided into two capitals: west Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel and east Jerusalem the capital of Palestine. 

Effective steps 

There are several immediate and concrete steps for European Union to play and to contribute for a solution of the conflict: 

The European Union should encourage all its 28 member states to condemn the US embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem made by Trump underlining the detrimental effect it will have on Palestinian’s goal in achieving sovereignty. 

States should not aid Israeli war crimes and should not attend diplomatic meeting at the site of the new 


  • The European Union in its entirety must stress the position that no Israeli body based in East Jerusalem has the access to Horizon 2020 funds. 
  • Together with all the member states, the European Union must enforce international non recognition of Israeli sovereignty on Jerusalem 
  • European States must act collectively in order to ensure Palestinian rights in both East and West Jerusalem in order to support Palestinian resistance and efforts to claim sovereignty. 

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