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Ask Cokie: Questions On U.S. Recognizing Jerusalem As Israel's Capital


Let's Ask Cokie about the history of the United States' relations with the city that's all about its history.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

INSKEEP: President Trump made that statement one week ago. U.S. policy toward Israel always triggers debate, and the problems of Jerusalem perhaps are more complex still. Cokie Roberts is here to guide us through them. Hi, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. Nice to talk to you.

INSKEEP: And, of course, you join us every week to take listeners' questions. The first, from a listener identified as John, who asks, (reading) did the United Nations have significant involvement in the creation of Israel as a nation in 1948? What were their thoughts on a capital back then?

ROBERTS: Well, the U.N. had a huge role. As the post World War I British control over Palestine was scheduled to end in 1948, the U.N. debated the future of the region and eventually did adopt what was called the Partition Resolution in 1947, which divided Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian states and put Jerusalem under international control to be administered by the U.N. But that didn't last long.

INSKEEP: What happened?

ROBERTS: Well, as soon as the state of Israel was declared, five Arab armies attacked Jewish settlements in the region. Israel fought back and captured the western part of Jerusalem. Then in a later war, the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel took all of the city. And East Jerusalem is now considered occupied territory by the Arabs, who also claim the city as their capital.

INSKEEP: And the United States had not recognized it as Israel's capital up to now, which leads to our next question.

BRAD ISAACS: My name is Brad Isaacs from Jackson, Tenn. My question is, in a Sunday morning TV interview, Ambassador Nikki Haley said all U.S. politicians were for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital but that it can't be that simple or we would have already done it. Most politicians of both parties have clearly been for more restraint, at least up till now. Tell us more about why.


ROBERTS: Well, what Ambassador Haley actually said was that presidential candidates of both parties have supported the idea of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and she's absolutely right about that. They've not only said that Jerusalem is the capital, they've castigated their predecessor for not acting on the promise once they're in office. And then once the candidate gets elected, he also fails to recognize Jerusalem officially by moving the U.S. embassy there, though there is a law on the books requiring them to do so. That's the restraint the listener's referring to. Presidents have worried that such a provocative move would have all kinds of negative effects, from boosting Russian influence among the Arabs, to killing the peace process to instigating violence. And, certainly, we've seen some of that in recent days.

INSKEEP: So what has normally happened is Congress passed this law to declare it the capital. Presidents have signed this waiver not to actually do it, which leads to our next question.

DANIEL HINOJOSA: My name is Daniel Hinojosa from San Jose, Calif. My question is, when did the waiver come along, and why the symbolic shrug up to now to something with such apparent impact?

ROBERTS: Well, the Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed in 1995 with overwhelming, overwhelming support in both houses. But let's be clear, Steve. This was a strictly political move. The bill was introduced by Bob Dole, who was running for president, and he wanted to woo the evangelical Christians who support Israel plus Jewish voters. But President Clinton, who allowed the bill become law without signing it, convinced the Congress to insert the waiver which allows a six-month delay if there are security reasons to support that. And for reasons of stability, each succeeding president has signed the waiver every six months. The Trump administration argues this president is making a bold move by saying he's going to move the embassy to Jerusalem, just as Harry Truman made a bold move in 1948, and the so-called experts who are decrying it are no more correct now than they were then.

INSKEEP: Commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Good to talk to you, Steve.

INSKEEP: She joins us Wednesdays to answer your questions about how Washington and politics work. And you can join the conversation. Tweet us at @morningedition with the hashtag #askcokie. Or, email your questions to askcokie@npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.