Germany says every state can name capital, but not Jerusalem

Replying to far-right MP’s query, Berlin argues that Israel’s 1980 declaration of the united city as its capital violated international law

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Jews wearing prayer shawls take part in the Kohanim prayer (priest's blessing) during the Passover holiday at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, on April 2, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA
Jews wearing prayer shawls take part in the Kohanim prayer (priest's blessing) during the Passover holiday at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, on April 2, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA

The German government affirmed last week that every country has the right to name its own capital, but argued that the status of Jerusalem can only be settled through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

“As a matter of principle, every state has the right to determine a city in its territory to be its capital,” Niels Annen, a minister of state in Germany’s Foreign Ministry, stated in response to a query by a lawmaker from the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

Annen cited Israel’s 1980 Basic Law: Jerusalem, which declares that the “complete and united” city is the Jewish state’s capital, and added: “Since the eastern part of Jerusalem that Israel occupied in 1967 contrary to international law is not part of Israel’s sovereign territory, the international community, including Germany, has not recognized this declaration.”

In his written response Friday, Annen cited United Nations Security Council Resolution 478, which in 1980 proclaimed that Israel’s declaration on united Jerusalem being its capital “constitutes a violation of international law.”

Annen, a Social Democrat, also cited Article XVII of the 1995 Oslo Accords, which states that Jerusalem is one of the issues “that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations.” He also referred to a European Council decision from 2014 that said that a way “must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states,” referring to Israel and a future Palestinian state.

“The Federal Government shares the view that the status of Jerusalem, just like other final status issues, can only be settled through negotiations to be durable and acceptable,” Annen wrote Friday.

Earlier this week, Chancellor Angela Merkel made the same argument in an interview with Israel’s Channel 10, reiterating that Berlin will not move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to Israel’s Channel 10 news in an interview aired on April 22, 2018. (screen capture, Channel 10)

Last week, Petr Bystron, one of the Alternative for Germany’s chief foreign policy spokespeople, filed a written query with the government asking it to name Israel’s capital.

In a press release he later added that his faction is strongly supportive of the State of Israel and US President Donald Trump’s December 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem and move the US embassy there.

“The German government’s answer was almost identical with that of the Palestinian Authority, which has been protesting US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem since December,” Byron said in a press release issued Tuesday.

Alternative for Germany MP Petr Bystron (Courtesy)

Bystron said he was “amazed that, even 70 years after the founding of the State of Israel, the German government has no idea what its capital is.” He was especially surprised, he said, that Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who had just visited Jerusalem and emphasized Germany’s “special responsibility for, and solidarity with, the democratic, Jewish state of Israel,” was unwilling to support Israel’s position.

“Considering the special responsibility the German government keeps emphasizing it has toward Israel, it is strange they keep repeating the arguments of Israel’s enemies,” Bystron said.

Official Israel boycotts the populist opposition party, known by its German acronym AfD, due to its nationalist and xenophobic policies.

Similar to other far-right parties in Europe, the AfD formally rejects anti-Semitism and professes to strongly support Israel, seeing a common enemy in radical Islamism. However, the party is largely rejected by the local Jewish community, which argues that it promotes xenophobia and fails to adequately distance itself from anti-Semites within its ranks.

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