History confirms that this right is not just a norm; it is so assumed that it is taken for granted. States establish or move their capitals without protest or external intervention because other nations accept this as a state’s natural right. This process continues even today. For example, Burma chose to move its capital with only five months’ notice in 2005, apparently based on political fears and/or “soothsayer” prophecies. While condemned as “totally irrational” by experts, no one claimed that Burma didn’t have the right to move its capital. Last year, South Sudan, a newly declared state, chose its capital, Ramciel, without international fanfare because establishing a capital is just “what you do” after you declare independence. Even Iran has been considering moving its capital since 2009, even though Tehran has been its capital since 1795. Unfortunately, Tehran, the largest city in the Middle East, sits uncomfortably close to at least 100 fault lines, and the city may not survive a major earthquake. No one questions the rights of these sovereign governments to make internal decisions regarding the location of their capitals because it doesn’t even occur to them to question it.
The choice of a capital is an internal political and practical decision. Under Israeli law, Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel and has been since the founding of the state. Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion proclaimed Jerusalem as the Israeli capital on December 13, 1949, and all branches of the government have been located in Jerusalem since that time. Jerusalem, as opposed to East Jerusalem, is undisputedly under Israel’s legal sovereignty, and, therefore, Israel has the right to place its capital there. All states that recognize the state of Israel recognize Israel’s exclusive and unquestioned sovereignty over the portion of Jerusalem within the “Green Line.” The Knesset formalized this position in January 1950. The parliament, in “Basic Law: Jerusalem Capital of Israel,” reiterated Jerusalem as the capital in 1980. United Nations Security Council Resolution 478, a non-binding resolution, immediately declared this domestic law “null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.” However, Resolution 478 is both non-binding on the international community and contrary to accepted international practice since the creation of the nation-state system. The choice of a capital is a legitimate domestic decision relegated to the individual states, not something governed by the political policies of other countries.
Even if one refuses to accept the “legal” argument for what determines a state’s capital, there is the factual argument for determining the location of a capital: where are the government offices? Since 1949, all branches of the Israeli government have been located in Jerusalem. The supreme court, parliament, and government offices are all located there. The official residences of both the President and Prime Minister are there. Perhaps this is where the BBC got its idea for the “seat of government” designation. However, if the seat of government is in Jerusalem, what is the actual capital according to the BBC? For example, the Hague is the seat of government for the Netherlands, even though Amsterdam is the official capital. And no one disputes the sovereign right of the Netherlands to have such an arrangement.
The BBC seriously injured its journalistic integrity when it ignored Olympic ideals, international law, and the facts on the ground by refusing to recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, both legally and factually.
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