On the eve of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trip to Washington, the State Department issued a bland announcement of a visit to the region by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, James Steinberg, in which it distinguished between Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank.
In a “media note” to the press on Wednesday, the State Department released a two paragraph statement on “Deputy Secretary Steinberg’s visit to Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
The wording, however, led some to wonder: Isn’t Jerusalem inside Israel, and does this odd wording presage a subtle change of U.S. policy?
A spokesman at the embassy in Tel Aviv, however, downplayed fears that this wording was an opaque signal of a change of U.S. position on Jerusalem. He denied any overarching significance in the wording, saying that in a region where there is a “great sensitivity” to words, the U.S. was “trying to be a fair interlocutor.”
The spokesman also said that this formula has been used in the past in similar statements.
A quick, and by no means exhaustive, perusal of some previous statements of visits, however, did not show this pattern of Jerusalem and Israel being listed separately.
Instead, what was found were the following statements:
- March 7, 2010: “Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will depart Washington, D.C., for the Middle East on the evening of Sunday, March 7. They will travel to Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues.”
- October 29, 2010: “Assistant Secretary Jose Fernandez Travel to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”
- September 13, 2010: “Secretary Clinton Traveling to Sharm e-Sheikh, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman.”
- From April 20, 2011: “Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer will Travel to Egypt, Israel and the West Bank from April 15 through April 22.”
Steinberg, who arrived in the region Wednesday, and held talks that day with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, led the U.S. team in the semi-annual U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue at the Foreign Ministry on Thursday.
Before meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who led the Israeli delegation to the talks, Steinberg said the strategic dialogue complements the regular day-to-day work between the countries, and gives a chance to “periodically step back and look at the broader trends, deeper issues and longer term challenges we face.”
This year, Ayalon said, the sides will discuss the “remarkable set of political developments throughout the region — but also some of the longer-term issues, like the problems of proliferation and Iran’s nuclear program.”
Following the meeting, the two sides put out a joint statement saying that “while focusing on rapid changes in the region, the United States and Israel remain cognizant of one of the greatest challenges we face today in the Middle East. Iran’s continued noncompliance with its international obligations related to its nuclear program, as well as its continued support for terrorist entities, are of grave concern to our two countries and the entire international community.
“Continued efforts by the international community to address Iran’s actions through both pressure and engagement are critical to changing Iran’s strategic calculus and preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability,” concluded the statement.