(CNSNews.com) – Contradicting a longstanding U.S. policy that irks many conservatives, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday identified Jerusalem’s location at least three times as being in Israel.
The apparent slip-ups came during Clinton’s first visit to the Israeli capital in two years, on the final day of a nine-country, 12-day trip.
Meeting with U.S. diplomatic staff and families at the U.S. consulate-general in Jerusalem, she said she was glad to see Consul General Daniel Rubinstein and his wife Julie, adding, “I got to work with Dan when he was in the White House, and it’s wonderful to see him in action here in Israel.”
Clinton used the same phrase when she greeted Defense Minister Ehud Barak at Jerusalem’s David Citadel hotel several hours later.
“Well, I am always pleased to have a chance to be here in Israel and to continue the conversations you and I have carried on over many years now, when we were both much younger,” she told Barak.
Later, opening a press conference at the same hotel shortly before flying home, Clinton declared herself “happy to be back in Israel.”
Those words – “here in Israel” and “back in Israel” – fly in the face of strict U.S. government policy not to state publicly that Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, is in fact located in Israel.
Like its Republican and Democratic predecessors, the Obama State Department does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the city, saying its future status remains to be determined in a negotiated peace settlement.
The U.S. policy applies even to western Jerusalem – parts of the city west of the 1949 armistice lines and so ostensibly not in dispute – as made clear by the administration’s stance in a legal case, brought on behalf of a young American born in Jerusalem, whose parents sought without success to have “Israel” given as place of birth on his passport.
Menachem Zivotofsky was born in a hospital in west Jerusalem, but State Department policy is that “U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem may not have ‘Israel’ listed in their passports as their place of birth.”
The Supreme Court last March sent Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State back to trial, saying in an 8-1 decision that it did not present a political question, as lower courts had asserted. The addition of the word “Israel” would only affect Zivotofsky’s official documentation, not U.S. Mideast policy.
The executive and legislative branches have long wrangled over the Jerusalem issue.
By large margins, both houses of Congress in 1995 passed a law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and instructing that the U.S. Embassy in Israel, located in Tel Aviv, should be moved to Jerusalem no later than May 1999.
An inbuilt waiver authority allowed the president to postpone the relocation for “national security” reasons for consecutive six-monthly periods, and they have done so ever since, most recently on June 1.
Many of the waiver notifications – particularly under President Obama – have been issued on Friday afternoons, a popular time for the “dumping” of material that tends to get less media attention. (Six of the seven waiver notifications issued by Obama to date have been on Fridays; four of President Bush’s 16 waivers were issued on Fridays; two of President Clinton’s four waivers were sent to Congress on Fridays.)
Frustrated by the ongoing delays, pro-Israel lawmakers have tried to force the issue over the years. Most recently, bills introduced in the House last year by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and in the Senate by Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) removed the waiver authority from the 1995 law and called for the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem “as soon as possible, but not later than January 1, 2013.”
Both bills (H.R. 1006 and S. 1622) were referred to committee, with little prospect of movement.
Assuming they were not deliberate, Clinton’s comments on Monday demonstrated again the difficulty of maintaining a policy that defies decades of reality.
In 1948 Israel’s leaders declared the city – the capital of King David’s kingdom of Israel 3,000 years ago – to be the capital of the nascent state of Israel. The ensuing war launched by its Arab neighbors ended with the eastern parts of the city controlled by Jordanian forces.
Jordan’s occupation – recognized as legal only by Britain and Pakistan – lasted until the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel expelled the Jordanians from the eastern parts of the city and the West Bank. It later annexed those areas, in a move not recognized by the international community.
Palestinian leaders, who regularly dispute the city’s Jewish heritage, want at least eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.
The State Department takes care not to identify Jerusalem as being in Israel, saying for example that a U.S. official is traveling to Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Jerusalem.
The website of the U.S. consulate-general states its mailing address to be, “P.O. Box 290, Jerusalem 91002,” with no country given.
References to “Jerusalem, Israel” have been found periodically on U.S. government websites – and when attention is drawn to them, usually scrubbed.
They can still be found, however, as in a White House biography of a trainee foreign service officer whose “first foreign service assignment will be in Jerusalem, Israel beginning August 2011,” a guidebook for grant applications that states “Jerusalem, Israel” in giving the U.S. consulate general’s address, or an official letter from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to its counterpart’s office in “Jerusalem, Israel.”
As recently as last Thursday, the State Department’s daily public schedule included an entry saying “Deputy Secretary [William] Burns is on foreign travel in Jerusalem, Israel.” The entry was later edited to remove the word “Israel.”
As the Zivotofsky case made its way through the lower courts, State Department lawyers argued that the occasional appearance of references to “Jerusalem, Israel” in official documents was irrelevant.
“[A]ny isolated, erroneous references to ‘Jerusalem, Israel’ that plaintiff might be able to find on Department of State Internet pages or that might appear in scattered individual passports or Consular Reports of Birth Abroad – references that plaintiff himself admits are ‘mistaken’ – do not constitute a change in policy and do not, therefore, damage the interests of the United States abroad,” State lawyers argued when the case was before the D.C. District Court in Dec. 2006.