Israel unfazed by Obama administration’s refusal to say Jerusalem is the capital

Israel unfazed by Obama administration’s refusal to say Jerusalem is the capital

‘It’s our capital, no matter what anyone else is saying,’ the Foreign Ministry responds, amid new-old dispute about US stance on Holy City

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A bird's eye view of the Knesset in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A bird's eye view of the Knesset in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Israel has no intention of creating a diplomatic fuss about the US State Department’s refusal to consider Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Wednesday. Earlier that day, a State Department spokesperson resolutely rebuffed questions as to what Israel’s capital is, merely stating that the issue of Jerusalem has to be resolved through negotiations.

“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital by decision of the Knesset and nothing can change that,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “Every country is entitled to choose its own capital and it is not for others to designate anyone else’s capital. It’s our capital, no matter what anyone else is saying.”

The issue of the US non-recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital came up again this week after the State Department released a press release announcing that “Acting Under Secretary Kathleen Stephens Travels to Algeria, Qatar, Jordan, Jerusalem, and Israel.”

The press release’s confusing wording raised some eyebrows, so State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during her daily press briefing on Wednesday that this press release was “issued in error, without appropriate clearances.” It was later reissued to clarify that Stephens is visiting Algiers, Doha, Amman, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Victoria Nuland (photo credit: USGov/Wikimedia Commons)
Victoria Nuland (photo credit: USGov/Wikimedia Commons)

“With regard to our Jerusalem policy, it’s a permanent-status issue. It’s got to be resolved through the negotiations between the parties,” Nuland added.

A reporter then asked whether the US administration considers Jerusalem the capital of Israel, to which Nuland responded: “We are not going to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations, including the final status of Jerusalem.”

The journalist kept on pushing her to answer the question, but Nuland merely repeated her previously expressed stance. Then a reporter asked her point-blank: “What is the capital of Israel?” Again, Nuland repeated that the administration’s policy “with regard to Jerusalem is that it has to be solved through negotiations,” and that “Our embassy, as you know, is located in Tel Aviv.”

In the wake of Wednesday’s affair, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on the State Department to publicly recognize Jerusalem as the “undivided capital” of Israel.

“A mistake on a press release is understandable, but today the administration doubled down on its determination to treat Jerusalem as separate from Israel,” she said. “Where does the administration think Jerusalem is? On Mars?”

“Legitimizing the myth that Jerusalem isn’t part of Israel undermines our ally Israel’s sovereign right to designate its own capital, and lends credibility to efforts by Palestinian leaders and extremists who continue to deny the connection of the Jewish people to their historic capital, Jerusalem,” she added.

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As has been reported in the past, the Obama administration refuses to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Passed by Congress in 1995, it states that “[e]ach sovereign nation, under international law and custom, may designate its own capital” and that the US “conducts official meetings and other business in the city of Jerusalem in de facto recognition of its status as the capital of Israel.”

According to a law Congress passed in 2002, Americans born in the Jerusalem are allowed to have their passports state “Jerusalem, Israel” as their place of birth. But both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have refused to enforce the law. On Monday, the issue dominated headlines again, when the Supreme Court in Washington decided that the lower federal courts should rule in the case of Jerusalem-born Menachem Zivotofsky, whose parents sued the State Department after it refused to issue him passport indicating that he was born in Israel.

In 2008, Obama addressed the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, saying that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” Controversy ensued, and the next day Obama — then a presidential hopeful — “clarified” his remarks, saying Jerusalem’s final status will have to be determined in peace negotiations.


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