The morning after he secured the Democratic nomination, Senator Obama appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and made a surprisingly strong statement about the future of Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided,” he said to thunderous applause. Israelis and their supporters in the United States responded warmly to a bold, unequivocal proclamation that went well beyond the positions of the Bush or Clinton administrations – positions which have always endorsed key Israeli concessions on Jerusalem. .
Within a week, the Palestinians and various foreign policy commentators denounced the new Obama approach, and the candidate hastily retreated from his prior declaration. His subsequent equivocation and undeniable confusion on an issue of profound international importance conforms to the candidate’s already well-established pattern of offering rousing words that remain utterly unconnected to substantive policy.
On reflection, even many Friends of Israel who initially applauded Obama’s speech now see two reasons to question his position:
1. He Didn’t Mean It
Within hours of his AIPAC speech, Senator (“Can’t I just eat my waffle?”) Obama began to waffle on its most controversial passage.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had already reacted with surprising forcefulness concerning his reference to “undivided Jerusalem.” “This statement is totally rejected,” he announced to the world press. “We will not accept a Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as its capital.” Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qeri sounded a similar note. “No Jerusalem, no agreement,” he said.
On CNN on Thursday (after his Wednesday speech), Senator Obama faced questions about the angry reaction from the Arab world and whether his comments indicated that Palestinians had no claim to Jerusalem. “Well, obviously it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues,” he said – clearly abandoning the “must remain undivided” formulation of the day before. He told CNN that he still supported a unified Israeli Jerusalem but suddenly acknowledged that this might prove an unattainable goal. “My belief is that, as a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute,” he said.
Why, then, make the reference in the midst of a high profile speech? Did Obama’s ringing declaration signify anything at all other than a handy-dandy applause line for the nation’s most influential pro-Israel organization?