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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

US State Dept. dodging question of Jerusalem in briefing (updated)



Transcript:

QUESTION: Yesterday there was a bit of a kerfuffle over an announcement that was made by the Department about the travel of your boss.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: Is it the State Department’s position that Jerusalem is not part of Israel?
MS. NULAND: Well, you know that our position on Jerusalem has not changed. The first Media Note was issued in error without appropriate clearances. We reissued the note to make clear that Under Secretary – Acting Under Secretary for R, Kathy Stephens, 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 negotiations between the parties.
QUESTION: Is it the view of the United States that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, notwithstanding the question about the Embassy, the location of the U.S. Embassy?
MS. NULAND: We are not going to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations, including the final status of Jerusalem.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you do not regard Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?
MS. NULAND: Jerusalem is a permanent status issue; it’s got to be resolved through negotiations.
QUESTION: That seems to suggest that you do not regard Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Is that correct or not?
MS. NULAND: I have just spoken to this issue --
QUESTION: No, no. But --
MS. NULAND: -- and I have nothing further to say on it.
QUESTION: You’ve spoken to the issue but didn’t answer the question, and I think there’s a lot of people out there who are interested in hearing a real answer and not saying – and not trying to duck and say that this has got to be resolved by negotiations between the two sides.
MS. NULAND: That is our --
QUESTION: What is the capital of Israel?
MS. NULAND: Our policy with regard to Jerusalem is it has to be solved through negotiations. That’s all I have to say on this issue.
QUESTION: What is the capital of Israel?
MS. NULAND: Our Embassy, as you know, is located in Tel Aviv.
QUESTION: So does that mean that you regard Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel?
MS. NULAND: The issue on Jerusalem has to be settled through negotiations.
Lalit, thank you.
...
QUESTION: I just want to go back to – I want to clarify something.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Perhaps give you an out on your Jerusalem answer. Is it your position that all of Jerusalem is a final status issue or do you think – or is it just East Jerusalem?
MS. NULAND: Matt, I don’t have anything further to what I said 17 times on that subject. Okay?
QUESTION: All right. So hold on – so – I just want to make sure, you’re saying that all of Jerusalem, not just East Jerusalem, is a final status issue?
MS. NULAND: Matt, I don’t have anything further on Jerusalem to what I’ve already said.
Please.

This has been the US' long standing position across the decades and many administrations. It appears that the official US position is that Jerusalem was meant to be a corpus separatum, an international city, in the 1947 partition plan and as such its status - including the Israeli side of the Green Line - is still up in the air. This is in marked contradiction to the other US position that everything west of the Green Line is part of Israel. Nevertheless, the US refused to recognize Israel's declaration of Jerusalem as its capital in 1949, and that remains in effect.


In response, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made a statement:
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today called on the Administration to publically recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. During today’s Department of State press briefing, the Department’s spokesperson refused to answer whether Jerusalem is located in Israel and whether it is the capital of Israel. The questions were related to a press release issued Monday by the Department that noted ongoing travel by a Department official to “Algeria, Qatar, Jordan, Jerusalem, and Israel,” implying that Jerusalem and Israel are two distinct entities. State later issued a release noting the official’s travel to “Algiers, Doha, Amman, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv.” Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

“For more than three years, the Obama Administration has followed in the flawed footsteps of its predecessors by refusing to fully implement U.S. law and move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

“Now, the Administration has gone even further. A mistake on a press release is understandable, but today the Administration doubled down on its determination to treat Jerusalem as separate from Israel. 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.

“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.”
Israel's Foreign Ministry also responded:
“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 any one else’s capital. It’s our capital, no matter what anyone else is saying.”
Keep in mind though that if the long-dead "international city" idea is part of the reason for the US' position, then that means that Bethlehem, which was meant to be part of it as well, is also up for negotiations. In fact, the area of Jerusalem envisioned in the 1947 partition plan is much larger than greater Jerusalem is today, in (almost) all directions (today's Jerusalem goes further north, h/t Elliot)


I have never yet heard any State Department spokesperson say that Bethlehem - most of which is in Area A, under full PA control - is up for final-status negotiations. But if you follow the logic, it must be. (Maybe Ramallah is also a final-status issue.)

Perhaps that would be a good follow-up question for Ms. Nuland. Or is the State Department more worried about angering Arabs than angering Jews?

UPDATE: A good article on the evolution of US attitudes towards Jerusalem is here.

(h/t Omri, CHA, JE Dyer )