Article: Backtracking on Jerusalem?

Posted on June 6, 2008 In News

Backtracking on Jerusalem?
by Ben Smith
Posted June 5, 2008

Jerusalem “must remain undivided,” an applause line at AIPAC.

The Jerusalem Post, and the conservative Orthodox Union, took it to originally mean that he would oppose any U.S. or Israeli attempt to cede partial sovereignty of Jerusalem.

An Obama aide revised that to mean that he only opposes barbed wire down the middle of the city, but not — if the Israelis choose it — divided sovereignty.

And Obama’s camp says he hasn’t changed sides.

“Barack reaffirmed his previously stated position that Jerusalem must remain the capital of the Jewish state and must never be redivided. Jerusalem, which is one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict, is a final status issue, which means that both parties have agreed its status will be resolved in the negotiations. But he believes certain principles should apply to any agreement on Jerusalem. Jerusalem will always be Israel’s capital. And Jerusalem should never be redivided by barbed wire and check points, as it was from 1948 to 1967. Beyond that, the parties will have to agree on arrangements that they both can live with,” an aide, Dennis McDonough, e-mailed me.

Indeed, in a position paper for his 2000 congressional race, Obama said Jerusalem should “remain united.”

On the other hand, “undivided” is often associated with the hard line. Hillary took flak from the left for making a commitment to an “undivided” Jerusalem.

Now, this is total quicksand.

Obama did sound like he was siding with the hard-liners — and he won their praise — at AIPAC.

But the underlying question is whether the American president would oppose an Israeli decision to share the capital — a position so hard-line that even John Hagee, the Christian Zionist pastor McCain dumped, was recently forced to backtrack from it. So it might have been a stretch ever to interpret Obama’s words to mean that.

“Ultimately, most American Jews believe that Israel will have to decide for itself what sacrifices its prepared to make in the final peace agreement,” one official at a Jewish organization in Washington told me this evening, voicing what’s more or less the establishment line at places like AIPAC. Both the right and the left, however, would like to see American Jews to get more involved in the details of a possible settlement.

One insidery note: The JPost piece includes criticism only from the right: The OU and the Zionist Organization of America, which sets the hard line. The question will be whether more center-right voices — AIPAC, or congressional Democrats like Jerry Nadler and Rahm Emanuel, or analysts like Jeffrey Goldberg and Marty Peretz, object to his interpretation.