Sunday, April 1, 2012

What is the Capital of Israel? - Not an April Fools' Day Joke

I wish this were an April Fools' Day joke - but it is not.

It caused quite a stir this week when the Washington Free Beacon discovered a State Department press release which referred to Jerusalem and Israel as two separate entities. The not-so-subtle categorical slight was all the more shocking for how it contradicted decades of U.S. foreign policy and President Obama's own words from an AIPAC speech in 2008.

However, the now-corrected release and subsequent State Department press conference reveals a glaring contradiction in the Department's position over the permanent status of Jerusalem to that held by President Obama--at least, to that held by President Obama four years ago.

Let's begin with the State Department, whose press release clearly mentions Jerusalem and Israel separately: "Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Kathleen Stephens is traveling to Algiers, Doha, Amman, Jerusalem, and Israel from March 23 to April 5 to meet with a broad cross-section of government officials, students, NGOs, and exchange program alumni."

Shortly after this was discovered, the State Department, in no surprise move, quickly scrubbed the release from the Internet and corrected the "error" by swapping out "Israel" for "Tel Aviv." This prompted an alarming exchange between AP State Department Reporter Matt Lee and State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland at Thursday's press briefing.

After an explanation regarding the mix-up, Nuland stated, "With regard to our Jerusalem policy, it's a permanent-status issue. It's got to be resolved through the negotiations between the parties."

These negotiations to which Nuland was referring have to do with a discrepancy between the U.S. Congress and the Executive Branch. The Legislature acknowledges Jerusalem's "undivided status" as the capital of Israel. It is the position the Executive branch that Western and Eastern Jerusalem are subject to international peace negotiations; therefore, it does not claim that Jerusalem in its entirety is the permanent capital.

Following her comments, Lee
pressed Nuland for the State Department's position on the current status of Jerusalem--whether they consider it the capital of Israel, a position President Obama held rather strongly in 2008.

In his speech to AIPAC, the president declared, "Let me clear, Israel's security is sacrosanct, it is non-negotiable, the Palestinians need a state... that is contiguous and cohesive and that allows them to prosper, but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized, defensible borders, and Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided."

As usual, no one stopped President Obama from being perfectly clear. His message conveyed strong support for Jerusalem to remain "the undivided capital of Israel." Yet somehow, that clarity seems to have dissipated somewhere, as his state department claimed on Thursday, "With regard to our Jerusalem policy, it's a permanent-status issue. It's got to be resolved through the negotiations between the parties."

Even more alarming, as Lee continued to ask, "What is the capital of Israel?" Nuland replied, "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."

Herein lies the real problem with the State Department's position, at least according to Victoria Nuland. Not only does the State Department leave the status of East and West Jerusalem up to negotiations, it dismissed the U.S. recognition that any part of Jerusalem is the permanent capital of Israel.

Lee pressed this issue directly by asking, "Is it your -- is it your position that all of Jerusalem is a final-status issue, or do you think -- or is it just East Jerusalem?" Nuland again responded with, "Matt, I don't have anything further to what I've said 17 times on that subject. Okay."

So we are left with all she had to say on the issue, what she "said 17 times already," and it indicates a drastic inconsistency between the State Department's position, President Obama's positions in 2008, and longstanding U.S. policy.

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