The Free Beacon reports:

A State Department official refused to state that Jerusalem is the [capital] of Israel when pressed today by AP State Department reporter Matt Lee.

The Free Beacon was first to report yesterday that the department had quietly altered an official communication that originally referred to Israel and Jerusalem [as] separate entities.

When pressed by a reporter earlier today, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland carefully avoided calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel, instead deflecting the query by claiming that Jerusalem’s ultimate status will only be determined in peace negotiations by the Israelis and Palestinians.

“The first media note was issued in error, without appropriate clearances,” Nuland explained when asked about the altered press release. . . . “With regard to our Jerusalem policy, it’s a permanent-status issue. It’s got to be resolved through the negotiations between the parties.”

Goodness knows the administration has had its hand caught in the cookie jar trying to “scrub” references to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The administration has previously tried writing Jerusalem out of Israel on a travel itinerary.

But the ham-handedness and unnecessary eye-poking aside, critics of the Obama administration should be careful on the substance. No American president has made — nor, I would argue, should make — a definitive judgment on the disposition of Jerusalem.

Friends of Israel should not encourage irresponsible and unachievable pandering on the status of Jerusalem. The United States has signed multiple international agreements specifying that Jerusalem is a final-status issue. We only invite fights about apartment buildings and imperil our own ability to influence events by jumping the gun to declare as a matter of U.S. policy what we think the final disposition should be.

Understand, this applies to official U.S. government policy. Friends of Israel are entirely reasonable in proclaiming their support for Jerusalem as the undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish state. (Full disclosure: I have a bumper sticker on my car that says precisely this.) But private citizens making the historical, religious and geopolitical case for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is different than the administration taking sides on an issue that is supposed to be the topic of negotiation.

Making a mountain out of a molehill (an apartment permit) was where the administration got badly off track, you will recall. In that instance the administration took what every prime minister in Israel has done (build in his capital) and turned it into a huge to-do and part of a precondition of negotiations.

Perhaps the administration should be guided by a simple rule: If you don’t have something nice to say about Israel’s capital (like “Next Year in that-final-status-issue-locale!” at the White House Passover seder), put a cork in it.