The United States State Department is standing behind the wording of an official statement that implied that Jerusalem – including its western parts - is not a part of Israel. Against the backdrop of President Barack Obama's speech calling on Israel to return to the 1949 Armistice lines, the statement's implications appear more alarming.
The May 18 statement was cited in a Weekly Standard column by Eliot Abrams, a former foreign policy advisor for presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
“In what country is the Knesset?… [I]t seems that this question has stumped the State Department. It does not know or will not say what country the Knesset is in, nor—one must assume—does it know what country the Prime Minister’s Office, the Israel Museum, or especially the Western Wall are in.
He quotes a “remarkable” press release from the State Department about the travels of Deputy Secretary James Steinberg, which says:
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg visits Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank [our emphasis, ed.] May 18-19, 2011. In Israel, Deputy Secretary Steinberg met with Israeli academic and student leaders. In the West Bank, he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials. Among other issues, he discussed moving forward on Middle East peace as well as the recent fundamental changes in the region and the United States’ response to them. On May 19, he will participate in the U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue. The Strategic Dialogue allows senior U.S. and Israeli leaders to discuss, on a regular basis and in depth, the many issues that affect our mutual security and partnership.
The wording of the statement seems to imply that Jerusalem is outside Israel. Since Steinberg’s visit included a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in the Foreign Ministry, which is in western Jerusalem, the implication seems to be that western Jerusalem, too, is separate from Israel.
“I suppose the poor benighted Israelis believed they were hosting Steinberg in their country when he visited government offices,” Abrams wrote sarcastically. “But he knew better. What makes this especially egregious is that Israeli government offices—where Mr. Steinberg would have had his official meetings—are actually in west Jerusalem, the portion Israel controlled even before 1967. Yet the Clinton State Department is apparently unwilling to call even that portion of the city ‘Israel.’”
Abrams believes the statement is not an innocuous mistake: “While Deputy Secretary Steinberg and Secretary Clinton’s State Department may believe that the Western Wall of the ancient Temple is actually not in Israel, and are apparently unwilling to confirm that the Knesset and Prime Minister’s Office are in Israel, it’s an unsustainable position. It is a ludicrous, insulting, morally untenable position.”
In response to a query by Arutz Sheva, the State Department did not retract or try to claim the statement had been misunderstood.
A U.S. Embassy spokesperson would not directly address the article, but stated: “The formula as it was written does not show any change in the American policy toward Israel, and similar wording was used in the past.”