President Trump announced plans to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Wednesday, and you've probably noticed some controversy as a result.
So what's the big deal?
Israel considers Jerusalem its capital. Like most capital cities, Israel's courts, legislature and other pertinent agencies are headquartered there. Unlike most capitals, foreign governments do not maintain their embassies in Jerusalem, instead, most are located in Tel Aviv, on Israel's western coast.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which is currently under Israeli control, to be their capital if they get a future state. They feel that recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital would be unfair so long as it stays under Israeli control.
A bit of history...
Jerusalem was divided after the Israel-Arab war of 1948. After the British left what was then called the British Mandate of Palestine in the late 1940s, the United Nations (U.N.) had planned to partition the territory between the Arabs and Jews, with Jerusalem existing under a special international regime. Fighting ended in 1949, leaving the western half of the city to Israel and the eastern half to Jordan. The border that partitioned Israel and its neighbors became known as the "Green Line."
That all changed in 1967 after what is known as the Six Day War. While an armistice had been signed in 1949, relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors remained tense. By June of that year, they had reached a dangerous low point after Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran, an important waterway between the Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia, to Israeli ships. Israel had previously warned this would be considered an act of war. Shortly after, Egypt began massing its military forces along the Israeli border. Israeli leaders recognized that if Egypt was joined by its Arab neighbors, it could not survive a multi-front war, prompting the Israeli Defense Forces to engage in a surprise attack.
The gamble worked, but Egypt pushed for Syria and Jordan to join the fight. Israeli forces responded by relocating to Israel's eastern and northern borders, which led to the seizure of the Golan Heights from Syria, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan.
Then what happened?
Israel passed a law in 1980 formalizing Jerusalem as its capital city. This upset the U.N., which condemned the move. For the next three decades, countries from across the globe began to move their embassies out of Jerusalem and into Tel Aviv.
What about the U.S.?
Interestingly enough, the U.S. embassy has never been in Jerusalem. Instead, it has always been in Tel Aviv, with the ambassador's residence located just north of the city in Herzliya. That said, the U.S. does maintain a consulate in Jerusalem and U.S. diplomats often work there.
But that's not all...
Israel began leasing land to the U.S. for a new Jerusalem-based embassy in 1989 for 99 years for the princely sum of $1 per year. Six years later, the Congress passed a law requiring the U.S. embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, however, the leased land remains undeveloped.
Every president from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama has signed a waiver every six months preventing the law's implementation. Even Trump signed it once before. Technically speaking, it's because the executive branch considers the law an infringement on the president's constitutional right to conduct foreign policy, but most analysts believe it's for security purposes.
So what now?
Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would be a recognition of the city as Israel's capital while the Palestinians continue to dispute Israel's control of east Jerusalem. It is believed that the move could disrupt the peace process, and potentially lead to violence.
The Israeli government has praised Trump's plan to move the embassy, while Palestinian leaders have claimed it is a violation of international law. Some leaders of the Hamas terrorist group, which runs the government in the Gaza Strip, have called for a "day of rage" in response.
The next steps...
Moving the embassy won't be an overnight process. In fact, some folks in the know have said it could take at least months and possibly more than a year to actually happen. Trump is expected to sign a national security waiver to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for at least the next six months.
The future embassy's location also remains a mystery. It could be built on the leased land, or perhaps in an entirely new location. Officials will have to take the security and political implications into account either way, so don't expect the process to be over any time soon.
For now, the State Department has warned its personnel to avoid Jerusalem's Old City and the West Bank due to fear of unrest.