Dispute over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: how are capital cities chosen and what do they represent?

Dispute over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: how are capital cities chosen and what do they represent?


Jerusalem is home to sacred sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims. A unique and symbolic place.

The eyes of the international community are on the city that the president of the United States, Donald Trump, recognized on Wednesday as the capital of Israel, despite the warnings not to do so that came from the Arab world and from other countries.

The status of the city is one of the main issues that divides Israel and the Palestinians.

Jerusalem is the declared capital of Israel and the seat of government is located there. But that de facto situation is something that does not have the backing of the international community.

The discord over the decision of the United States can lead many to plan the question of what the capital cities represent and why they are where they are.

We present four reasons:

1. A sense of control and a symbol of unity

The word “capital” derives from capitalis in Latin, which means “to the head”.

As the city that heads the territory, it is linked to the State and, therefore, should host the seat of government (this is not the case of Sucre in Bolivia) and, if it exists, usually to royalty as well.

The capital needs to be protected, but it can also exercise control and project unity.

For that reason, many capitals have been built in the geographic center of the countries ; They should look representative and accessible.

Madrid SpainCopyright of the GETTY IMAGES image

Image captionMadrid is almost in the center of the Iberian Peninsula.

Madrid is almost in the center of the Iberian Peninsula, while Abuja, which became the official capital of Nigeria in 1991, rose up as a new and geographically strategic city to symbolize the unity of a nation divided into religious and geographical lines.


In the same way, Brazil moved its capital from the coastal and populous Rio de Janeiro to the city of Brasilia, inland. The idea was to build a new capital that “brought progress to the interior of Brazil,” as architect Oscar Niemeyer described it.

2. Political commitment

Washington DC may be the scene of a deep political division today, but the foundation in 1790 of the capital of the United States was based on a political commitment.

Alexander Hamilton and the northern states wanted the federal government to assume the debts of the states and reached an agreement with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who wanted the capital to be in the south.

George Washington chose the precise location in the vicinity of the Potomac River and the rest is history.

A photo of the Australian Parliament in Canberra.Copyright of the EPA image

Image caption Itmay sound much less than Sydney, but the inner city of Canberra is the capital of Australia.

In Australia, curious tourists are often surprised to learn that Sydney is not the capital of the country. The usual answer is that the inner city of Canberra was built as an agreement between the largest city in Australia and its competitor in the south, Melbourne.

Some historians point out, however, that this is not exactly true and that the scorching heat in Sydney and Melbourne in the summer is one of the main reasons why Canberra was chosen as capital.

“The most significant reason, with which all politicians agreed at the time, was that whites could only prosper and lead if they lived in a cold climate,” historian David Headon told Australian Geographic.

3. Complicated history

Berlin or Bonn? That was the question when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and unified Germany had to decide on what the capital would be.

During the years of division in the context of the Cold War, Bonn was the capital of West Germany and east of Berlin was the capital of East Germany (German Democratic Republic).

Today, few of the travelers who crowd the nightclubs of Berlin and take photographs of the colorful remnants of the wall know about Bonn.

But the decision on which of the two cities would be the capital was reduced to a few votes in the German parliament (Bundestag) on June 20, 1991. Berlin triumphed with 337 votes out of 320 for Bonn.

Tourists walk in front of the gallery of the East Side, the largest remnant of the old Berlin Wall.Copyright of the REUTERS image

Image caption All of them could be in Bonn …

And while the Germans were discussing two possible capitals, South Africa actually has three.

The branches of government are divided between Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (administrative) and Bloemfontein (judicial), although the Constitutional Court is in Johannesburg.

This goes back to the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 after four British colonies were unified and an agreement could not be reached on where the capital would be.

In 1994, with the end of the apartheid regime, there was a movement to create a new capital in the style of Canberra or Brasilia, which would allow a new beginning, but this never happened.

4. The whims of strong men

Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan since 1997, is a gleaming futuristic playground that represents the ambitions of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled the Central Asian country since 1991.

Among the best known sites is the Peace and Reconciliation Palace , a pyramid of concrete and glass designed by the British Norman Foster that has a 1,500-seat opera house.

This city swept by the wind in the frozen steppe was briefly called Akmola, but changed its name to Astana because the previous word meant “white grave”.

A panoramic view of the monument of Baiterek in Astana, Kazakhstan.Copyright of the REUTERS image

Image caption Astana: the city that a man dreamed …

Another country, Myanmar (formerly Burma) also has a remote capital city, which is four times larger than London.

Naypyidaw was built in 2005 as an isolated refuge for the military government, at the same time that the country began its rocky transition to democracy.

The huge capital has it all, huge roads, a zoo and golf courses, but less than a million people live there.

And Jerusalem?

Sacred for the three great monotheistic religions, Jerusalem is a city that both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital. For Israel it is already in fact and the Palestinians designated East Jerusalem as their future state.

When in 1947 the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, it was thought that Jerusalem would be considered a “separate entity”, an international city that would be administered for ten years by the UN before carrying out a referendum to define its destiny.

TrumpCopyright of the GETTY IMAGES image

Image caption Trump promised during his campaign that he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

This plan was not implemented due to the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, which in practice led to the division of the city into two parts: East Jerusalem, under Arab control; and West Jerusalem, in the hands of Israel.

The eastern part of Jerusalem, which included the old city and the sacred sites, remained in Jordan’s hands from then until 1967, when during the Six Day War, Israel took control of the entire city.

In 1980, Israel declared it as its indivisible capital, something that has not been recognized by the international community and that even the UN Security Council declared null and void.

Last April, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it recognized West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but considered East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.

With the announcement of Donald Trump, the United States becomes the first country to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

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