In an unexpected, unprecedented and curious move, Moscow on Thursday said it considers West Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, making Russia the first country in the world to extend such a recognition to any part of the city.
“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 Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement.
Russia’s surprising announcement came as US President Donald Trump considers moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It is unclear what prompted Moscow’s decision and whether other countries in its sphere of influence will follow suit.
Officials in Jerusalem, evidently taken aback by the statement, declined immediate comment on the announcement. “We are studying the matter,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said.
At this point it is unclear whether the Israeli government would welcome the recognition of West Jerusalem as its capital, since Israel claims the entire city as its eternal united capital.
Recognizing only the Western part of it would appear to deny Israel’s claims to the eastern part, including the Old City, which it captured in 1967 and subsequently annexed. The Russian statement specifically said that Moscow views “East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.”
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On the other hand, Russia’s step confers legitimacy on part of Israel’s declaration of Jerusalem as its capital. The rest of the international community adamantly refuses to recognize even this, arguing that the status of the entire city has to be determined in peace negotiations.
Under the 1948 partition plan, Jerusalem, with its holy sites, was designated an international city.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Moscow’s recognition of West Jerusalem’s capital was apparently not mentioned. A readout of the conversation provided by Netanyahu’s office said the two leaders discussed this week’s deadly terror attack in St. Petersburg, as well as chemical weapons attack in Syria this week against civilians in Idlib.
The Kremlin said that Putin “underlined that it’s unacceptable to make unfounded accusations against anyone until after a thorough and unbiased international investigation.” Earlier Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman laid the blame squarely with the Syrian government, a key ally of Russia, saying he was “100 certain” that Syria’s President Bashar Assad was directly responsible for the Idlib attack.
In private conversations, Israeli officials said they were unfazed by the Russian Foreign Ministry’s declaration to recognize the western part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, pointing to the fact that the statement placed the recognition in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, which is still elusive.
Especially problematic for Israel is the reference to “UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement.” This is likely the reason for the skepticism in Jerusalem, as all binding UN decisions, most recently Security Council Resolution 2334, adapt parameters that are anathema to the Israeli government, such as the establishment of a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“Moscow is deeply concerned about the situation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Palestine and Israel have not held political negotiations for nearly three years, and the situation on the ground has been deteriorating,” the Russian ministry’s statement read. “The stalling of the Middle East peace process has created conditions for unilateral moves that undermine the potential for an internationally accepted solution to the Palestinian problem, under which two states – Israel and Palestine – could live in peace and security with each other and with their neighbors.”
The statement goes on to affirm Russia’s support for a two-state solution, which is described as an “optimal option” that meets the national interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.
“The concrete parameters of a solution for the entire range of issues regarding the status of Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, should be coordinated at the direct talks between the parties involved,” the Russian statement said.