President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Defense Department, General (ret.) James Mattis told a congressional confirmation committee on Thursday that he believes that Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, should be considered the capital of Israel.
Mattis, who in the past criticized the Jewish state over “settlements” in Judea and Samaria and warned the country was at risk of turning into an “Apartheid” state, appeared to deviate from the stated policy of the incoming Trump administration, which has indicated it plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
When asked Thursday by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham what he believes Israel’s capital is, Mattis claimed the Israeli government is located in Tel Aviv.
"The capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv, sir, because that's where all their government people are," Mattis said.
It is unclear whether the retired Marine general simply erred in his response, or was referring to Israel’s military establishment, which is headquartered in the Kirya complex in Tel Aviv.
Israel’s seat of government is in Jerusalem, where the Knesset, Supreme Court, and major ministries are all located.
Senator Graham pressed Mattis further, asking him whether he recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
"Sir, right now I stick with the US policy," said Mattis, without elaborating further.
When asked by Graham whether he would “support moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Mattis answered merely that he would leave the decision to the State Department.
"I would defer to the nominee of Secretary of State on that, sir."
In the same line of questioning, Senator Graham also probed Mattis’ views on the two-state solution and Palestinian statehood.
“Do you support a two-state solution?” Graham asked.
“I do,” Mattis replied. “If that brings peace to the Middle East, I'm eager to see it work. If there's another solution, I'd be happy to hear what it is." The retired general later added “There’s nothing easy about the two-state solution.”
During the hearing Mattis also said the US is “going to have to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” adding that the US also must “restore better relations between Israel and Arab states.”