Joel Mowbray

In what might have been his most hawkish speech to date on the Middle East, Barack Obama sought to shore up his shaky support in the Jewish community with a security-first, diplomacy-second blueprint. Compared to the speech given on the same stage just over 24 hours earlier by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Obama clearly positioned himself as the stronger champion of Israel.

What looked like a home run, though, likely will not be, as the candidate sounded a decidedly different note the very next day. Worse, it’s not the only set of mixed signals sent by Obama.

Speaking to the 7,000-strong crowd at the annual conference for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in DC, Obama gave an important nod to Israel’s need for defensible borders. Rice did not.

Obama made no overt distinctions between Hamas and Fatah, and he even appeared to take a jab at the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority government of President Mahmoud Abbas in attacking “government-funded textbooks filled with hatred toward Jews.” Rice, by contrast, lavished praise on Abbas.

Then there was Obama’s headline-making proclamation that Jerusalem “must” remain the “undivided” capital of the Jewish state. No such reference from the secretary of state.

As people spilled out of the packed hall, Obama had gained many newfound admirers, and he had reassured plenty of others. Merely a day later, though, he undid much of the goodwill he had accumulated.

Most damaging was the rather curious explanation about what he had actually meant by “undivided.” Anyone who follows Israeli politics understands “undivided” to mean that the eastern half of Jerusalem will remain under Israeli control and not serve as the Palestinian capital.

Apparently not Obama, however. An unnamed Obama advisor told the Agence France Press that Obama’s definition of “undivided” was strictly literal, that the holy city is “not going to be divided by barbed wire.”

If that was what the candidate had intended to convey, he failed miserably. In dozens of conversations immediately afterward either overheard by or involving this columnist, not one discussed Obama’s desire to avoid barbed wire fencing from running through Jerusalem.

Of all the knocks against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, lack of clarity in carefully crafted speeches is not one of them. No wonder many cynics believe that Obama was pulling the equivalent of the old newspaper stunt of running the allegation on the front page, but burying the correction on page 32 the next day.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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