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December 8, 2017 12:04 pm

At State Department Briefing, Taboo Words on Jerusalem Are Finally Said Aloud

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An Israeli flag and an American one are projected on a part of the walls surrounding Jerusalem’s Old City, Dec. 6, 2017. Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

For the first time since Israel’s creation in 1948, a senior US State Department official has uttered the six words concerning the city of Jerusalem that were previously considered taboo.

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” declared Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield at an official briefing in Washington, DC on Thursday — one day after President Donald Trump upended decades of American policy by recognizing the holy city as the capital of the Jewish state.

Satterfield was answering a reporter who asked him two questions: “What is the capital of Israel?” and “What country is Jerusalem in?” On both, Satterfield confirmed that the US now recognizes “Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel.”

Satterfield’s boss — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — also held to the same line during a press conference in the Austrian capital of Vienna, underlining that the State Department, traditionally regarded as hostile to Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, will not be challenging Trump.

“As you know, there’s a 1995 law in the United States that requires the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to relocate our embassy,” Tillerson said. “So the president, after many, many reaffirmations by our Senate, including as recently as this past summer — the vote, I think, was 90 to none with 10 abstentions — the president is simply carrying out the will of the American people.”

Continued Tillerson, “The reality is Israel’s government, its courts, its prime minister’s office is all in Jerusalem today, so it is just an acknowledgment of what is the reality on the ground.”

Still, Tillerson added, Trump had “also affirmed our support for a two-state solution if that’s what the parties believe they are ready to agree. And he also made a statement regarding the final status of Jerusalem is something that is left for the parties to negotiate.”

State Department officials have emphasized that there will be no immediate change of policy on some of the knottier details involved with Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. On the issue of listing “Jerusalem, Israel” as the birthplace in the passports of US citizens born in the city, a State Department spokesperson noted that, “[A]t this time, there are no changes to our current practices regarding place of birth on Consular Reports of Birth Abroad and US Passports.”

In a controversial legal case in June 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the policy of not listing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in its judgement on a lawsuit brought by the parents of American citizen Menachem Zivotofsky, who was born in Jerusalem in 2003. At the time, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy explained the ruling by saying, “Recognition is a matter on which the nation must speak with one voice. That voice is the presidents’.”

The future status of Jerusalem’s 300,000 Arab residents in the wake of the US shift is also unclear. Asked at Thursday’s briefing whether Jerusalem’s Arabs would  “become automatically Israeli citizens, would have full rights, and so on,” Satterfield responded that Trump’s announcement would have “no impact on those issues.”

“There are many words that are in [Trump’s] statement, in his remarks; there are words that aren’t,” Satterfield said. “We recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel.  He didn’t go beyond that, and I’m not going to go beyond that.”

Watch Thursday’s State Department press briefing below:

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