What’s the Capital of Israel? Don’t Ask the U.S. State Department

In statement issued this week, State Department spokeswoman listed a U.S. diplomat’s travel destinations as ‘Algeria, Qatar, Jordan, Jerusalem, and Israel’ – drawing fire from conservative reporters.

The status of Jerusalem has long been a controversial issue – even in the U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland echoed that fact this week while answering a question about Israel's capital.

Earlier this week, the Department of State issued a routine statement announcing the visit of the Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Kathleen Stephens to the Middle East. The statement said that Stephens was "to meet with a broad cross-section of government officials, students, NGOs, and exchange program alumni".

Gora Berger

And then the release mentioned her points of destination: "Algeria, Qatar, Jordan, Jerusalem, and Israel.” The conservative reporters were quick to point out that the U.S. Administration “seemed to define Jerusalem and Israel as two separate entities.”

The Washington Free Beacon’s reporter Adam Kredo quoted a senior GOP aide who said that, "President Obama’s administration reminds Jewish voters why he cannot be trusted when it comes to Israel’s security. He doesn’t think Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Is it its own sovereign nation?”

Later, the Department of State issued another release, without commenting on the first one, this time mentioning Stephen's destination as "Algiers, Doha, Amman, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv” - still a bit awkward. In Jerusalem, Stephens will meet with Foreign Ministry officials, participate in "round table discussions with students at An Najah University and Palestinian media, and visit the America House,” while in Tel Aviv she'll meet with civil society leaders and exchange program alumni.

On Wednesday, the Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland provided some explanations.

“The first media note was issued in error, without appropriate clearances. We reissued the note to make clear that Acting Under Secretary Kathy Stevens will be traveling to Algiers, Doha, Amman, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. With regard to our Jerusalem policy, it's a permanent-status issue. It's got to be resolved through the negotiations between the parties. We are not going to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations, including the final status of Jerusalem".

When a reporter asked whether the U.S. Administration does not regard Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Nuland replied, "Jerusalem is a permanent-status issue. It's got to be resolved through negotiations".

“That seems to suggest that you do not regard Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Is that correct or not?” the reporter pressed.

"I have just spoken to this issue and I have nothing further to say on it", Nuland replied.

The reported continued, “What is the capital of Israel?”

"Our policy with regard to Jerusalem is that it has to be solved through negotiations. That's all I have to say on this issue,” she said. "Our embassy, as you know, is located in Tel Aviv".

“So does that mean you regard Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel?”

“The issue on Jerusalem has to be settled through negotiations", Nuland answered and turned to the next question.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the American parents of a boy born in Jerusalem can go to court in order to argue that their son’s U.S. passport may list Israel as his birthplace.

The U.S. law, which actually allows passports to list “Jerusalem, Israel”, has existed since 2002. However, like Congress’ decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it was never implemented.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee rebuffed the Obama administration’s position on Jerusalem: “The Administration needs to face reality, recognize publicly that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, and fully enforce U.S. law by moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”