Diplomacy

Did Russia Just Recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital?

Russia on Thursday said it considers Israel’s capital to be western Jerusalem, making it the first country in the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of the city.

Moscow’s unexpected announcement reflects “a sharp shift in Russian policy,” which had previously supported placing Jerusalem under the governance of an unspecified international regime, The Jerusalem Post reported.

In a statement “regarding Palestinian-Israeli settlement,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced:

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.

The statement also reiterated Moscow’s “support for the two-state solution as an optimal option that meets the national interests of the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom have friendly relations with Russia.”

Israel has ruled western Jerusalem since the country’s establishment, and assumed control of eastern portions of the city after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

“Russia’s ambassador to Israel will meet with Foreign Ministry officials in the coming days to discuss Moscow’s decision and its ramifications,” the Post reported. While Russia means for this declaration to be effective immediately, “there is currently no intention … of moving Russia’s embassy to Jerusalem.”

The Russian declaration comes as the Trump administration considers moving its embassy to Jerusalem, which would signal its recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the city. “No other country in the world,” the Post observed, “recognizes any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

A diplomatic source told the Post that Russia’s motivation for recognizing western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could be a way of deflecting criticism over its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime was accused of killing more than 70 people in a chemical attack on Tuesday. The source also suggested that Russia sees increased interest on the part of the United States in reviving peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and wants to play an active role in the diplomacy.

In an article published in the March 2017 issue of The Tower Magazine, Eylon Aslan-Levy observed that while Western nations have resisted treating any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a number of them already have diplomatic missions to the Palestinian Authority in the city.

[Photo: Ana Paula Hirama / Flickr ]