At Thursday’s State Department press conference — the day after President Obama directed the Democratic Party to re-instate in its platform the words “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” — a reporter asked acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell which city the U.S. recognizes as the capital of Israel. Mr. Ventrell responded as follows:
Well, as you know, longstanding Administration policy, both in this Administration and in previous administrations across both parties, is that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. So that’s longstanding Administration policy and continues to be so.
That response produced several more tries by reporters (“I mean, no city is recognized as a capital by the U.S. Government?” “That means Jerusalem is not a part of Israel?” “Are there any other countries in the world where the U.S. doesn’t know what the capital is or won’t say what the capital of a country is?”) — each of which produced the same non-response from Ventrell. Another reporter tried a fifth time, and this time the colloquy was more pointed:
QUESTION: What does the U.S. think the capital of Israel is? What do you —
MR. VENTRELL: As I’ve just said, we believe that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status —
QUESTION: I’m not asking you that question. I’m asking you what you think the capital is.
MR. VENTRELL: And my response is that Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations.
QUESTION: She didn’t ask about Jerusalem, though.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, this is something we’ve been through at this podium. Toria has been through it before. We’ve repeated it many times. You know that the position is. It hasn’t changed for decades.
QUESTION: Wait, I know that. And I don’t want to play the verbal game, I’m just very curious if you actually have a position about a capital of that country. And if you don’t, if – I just would like to hear you say you don’t.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, right now, Nicole —
MR. VENTRELL: — the situation is that we have an Embassy in Tel Aviv that represents our interests with the Government of Israel but that the issue of Jerusalem is one that has to be resolved between the two parties. That’s all I can say on this. [Emphasis added].
As the above exchange demonstrates, President Obama’s statement that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” was meant only for purposes of his platform and not for purposes of his policy. It has no more meaning for him in 2012 than it did in 2008, when he delivered the line to an AIPAC conference, complete with his trademark “Let me be clear” preface — and then proceeded to disregard it as soon as he left the building.
If President Obama ever holds another formal press conference, perhaps a reporter will ask how he was able to get the line into the platform but cannot get the State Department (or his own press secretary) to endorse even the first part of the sentence.