Mitt Romney had an easy applause line for his visit to Israel, courtesy of the White House.
“It’s a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel,” Romney said in his address Sunday. The line was greeted with sustained applause and cheers.
In referring to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Romney wasn’t breaking any new ground for a presidential candidate. But he didn’t have to.
What made Romney’s statement an applause line was that it came on the heels of an awkward exchange in which the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, declined to answer a question from a persistent reporter regarding what city the Obama administration considered to be Israel’s capital. (To be fair to Carney, explaining U.S. policy on Jerusalem is no easy task.)
The White House released a clarification that also failed to clarify the question of what city it considers to be Israel’s capital, and the Romney campaign promptly issued a statement from Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) slamming the Obama administration on the issue.
Presidential candidates regularly say that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. But once they end up in the Oval Office, they scale back their rhetoric and decline to relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, notwithstanding the 1995 law calling for such a move.
Four years ago, President Obama told AIPAC: “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” But the Obama camp quickly clarified that Jerusalem-as-Israel’s-capital and Jerusalem-as-an-undivided-city are two discrete principles, and that the city’s final disposition would be a matter for negotiations. (In other words, Jerusalem would be Israel’s capital and it would also be undivided — i.e., no barbed wire dividing it, as one Obama adviser explained at the time — but it might not be united under Israeli sovereignty.)
Back in 1992, Bill Clinton used similar language as a candidate: “I recognize Jerusalem as an undivided city, the eternal capital of Israel, and I believe in the principle of moving our embassy to Jerusalem." And in 2000, George W. Bush vowed to “begin the process of moving the United States ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital."
Yet the embassy is still in Tel Aviv.
"A nation has the capacity to choose its own capital city, and Jerusalem is Israel’s capital," Romney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview set to air Monday. "I think it’s long been the policy to ultimately have our embassy in the nation’s capital of Jerusalem."
The timing of the move, Romney said, would be made in consultation with Israel’s government.
"I would follow the same policy we have had in the past, our embassy would be in the capital, and the timing of that is something I would want to work out with the government," Romney said.