US President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for defense secretary, James Mattis, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he considered the capital of Israel to be Tel Aviv.
The 66-year-old retired Marines general was responding to questioning in his confirmation hearing for the position. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham asked the senator directly, "What's the capital of Israel?"
Mattis replied, "The capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv because that's where all their government people are, but…" and trailed off. While Israel's legislature, executive and Supreme Court are located in Jerusalem, its military leadership, with whom Mattis has previously met in his military capacity, are based in Tel Aviv. The nominee headed America's Central Command from 2010 to 2013, which included overseeing all US forces in the Middle East.
Graham persisted and asked, "Do you agree with me that the capital of Israel is Jerusalem?"
Mattis held firm, saying, "Sir, right now I stick with the US policy." The incoming US president has said that he intends to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy there.
During the questioning, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was also raised. Mattis said that he supported a two-state solution and added, "I think ultimately we're going to have to promote peace between the Palestinian and the Israeli authorities there, and that's going to take time to build that kind of trust, and we should be a partner in trying to build that resolution between those peoples."
The nominee briefly discussed Israel's "qualitative military edge."
For Mattis to be confirmed, Congress would first have to approve legislation bypassing a law that bars retired military officers from becoming defense secretary within seven years of leaving active duty. The general retired only in 2013.