The war of words between the two government ministries started when the Washington Free Beacon political blog found out last week that a State Department press release posted online, announcing the visit of the Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Kathleen Stephens to the Middle East, identified Jerusalem and Israel as separate entities.
The statement said that Stephens was to meet with a broad cross-section of government officials, students, NGOs, and exchange program alumni, and mentioned her destinations as, Algeria, Qatar, Jordan, Jerusalem, and Israel.
The State Department altered the statement immediately to say that Stephens would travel to Algiers, Doha, Amman, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv.
However, when Associated Press reporter Matt Lee pressed for an official clarification on the State Department's stand on the status of Jerusalem, spokesperson Victoria Nuland carefully avoided calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel, saying it was a permanent-status issue, which can be resolved only through negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
The first media note was issued in error, without appropriate clearances, Nuland was quoted as saying by the Free Beacon blog. We reissued the note to make clear that undersecretary, acting undersecretary for-our-Kathy Stephens will be travelling 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 the negotiations between the parties.
As reporters kept trying to get Nuland take sides on the issue, asking her point-blank, What is the capital of Israel, she said: Our embassy, as you know, is located in Tel Aviv.
Israeli foreign ministry replied to the US administration's rhetoric Wednesday, asserting the Knesset's right to choose Israel's capital.
Jerusalem is Israel's capital by decision of the Knesset and nothing can change that, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor was quoted as saying by the Times of Israel. Every country is entitled to choose its own capital and it is not for others to designate anyone else's capital. It's our capital, no matter what anyone else is saying.
Responding to the controversy, US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, questioned the State Department's stand on Jerusalem: A mistake on a press release is understandable, but today the administration doubled down on its determination to treat Jerusalem as separate from Israel, she said. Where does the administration think Jerusalem is? On Mars? Israeli media reported.
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, she added.