Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to lead the Pentagon, told senators in Washington Thursday that in his view, Tel Aviv--not Jerusalem--is the capital of Israel.
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis was asked by Sen, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., "What's the capital of Israel?" Mattis responded, "The capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv because that's where all their government people are."
Mattis may have been referring to his meetings with Israeli defense officials. While Israel's Defense Ministry is in Tel Aviv, virtually all of Israel's other government offices, including the Knesset, the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister's residence have been in Jerusalem for decades.
Graham asked Mattis again, "Do you agree with me that the capital of Israel is Jerusalem." Mattis answered, "Sir, right now I stick with U.S. policy."
During the final weeks of the campaign, President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence frequently referred to Jerusalem as Israel's capital and promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in accordance with a law passed by Congress in 1995.
When Graham asked Mattis if he supports the move advocated by the next commander in chief, Mattis said, "I would defer to the nominee for secretary of state."
Mattis also was asked if he supports a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. He replied, "I do," and said he would be happy to hear if someone else had an alternative solution.
Strong supporters of Israel have voiced opposition to the appointment of Mattis to be defense secretary, in part because of comments he made to the Aspen Institute in 2013, where he said Israel could be branded as an "Apartheid state" because of the presence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria -- the West Bank -- if a two-state solution wasn't reached quickly.
The Zionist Organization of America issued a statement in November saying in part, "Alarmingly, while Mattis was quick to gratuitously blame Jewish settlements, Mattis never mentioned any of the real obstacles to peace: namely, the Palestinian-Arab leadership's continuing incitement of terrorism in schools, textbooks, government-run media and mosques," as well as payments to terrorists and Palestinian security personnel to murder Jews.
Regarding Mattis' call for a Palestinian state, the ZOA said he ignored that a Palestinian state, "at least at this time and for the foreseeable future--would be a Hamas-Iran-dominated terror state that threatens Israeli and U.S. security."
Mattis did tell Sen. Graham in his confirmation hearing that he favors maintaining Israel's qualitative military advantage over its enemies.