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Obama Clarifies ‘Undivided Jerusalem’ Claim in AIPAC Speech

Last night’s statement from the Obama campaign clarifying the candidate’s reference to an eternally undivided Jerusalem in his AIPAC speech yesterday, shows why he’s among the best politicians on the American scene; and why he just may become our next president.

In my critique of his speech, I singled this phrase out for special criticism as I thought it needlessly compromised future flexibility in dealing with the issue of Jerusalem. Many in the blogosphere and Palestinians as well took special umbrage at Obama’s attempt to curry favor with the no-compromise set among the AIPAC membership.

But yesterday brought this Jerusalem Post article in which Obama’s camp “clarified” his statement:

…Barack Obama did not rule out Palestinian sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem when he called for Israel’s capital to remain “undivided,” his campaign told The Jerusalem Post Thursday.

“Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided,” Obama declared Wednesday, to rousing applause from the 7,000-plus attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.

But a campaign adviser clarified Thursday that Obama believes “Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties” as part of “an agreement that they both can live with.”

“Two principles should apply to any outcome,” which the adviser gave as: “Jerusalem remains Israel’s capital and it’s not going to be divided by barbed wire and checkpoints as it was in 1948-1967.”

Not every politician can get away with this sort of rhetorical “nimbleness.” What he’s done is mollify the AIPAC crowd with his original statement. And in the follow-up he’s expressed what I believe is his true policy agenda. And he’s artfully fudged the difference by referring to the division of Jerusalem between the War of Independence and 1967 War. Personally, I believe most people will give him the benefit of the doubt. The only ones who won’t are the militants like Mort Klein, Malcolm Hoenlein and Daniel Pipes (joined, of course, by those on the far left who don’t trust Obama’s fealty to Palestinian rights). But Obama never expected to convince them to begin with, and certainly doesn’t need to to become president.

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  • Donald June 6, 2008, 4:38 PM

    I hope you’re right about his true feelings–I’m assuming you know as well as anyone Obama’s record over the past year or so pandering to AIPAC. But assuming for the sake of argument that you’re right, I’m not sure if this is nimbleness, or being too clever for his own good, or simply a blunder, where Obama went too far with the pandering and it had to be walked back by the campaign staff. Hopefully you’re right about the nimbleness, but I can’t quite get enthusiastic about this because I think this kind of nimbleness may eventually blow up in his face.

  • Donald June 6, 2008, 4:49 PM

    Coincidentally, right after I typed that Mark Shields on the Jim Lehrer Newshour said that Obama’s statement on Israel was a blunder that he had to take back after criticism. He’s calling it a flipflop.

    But on the bright side, maybe he’ll realize that the political climate in the US has changed somewhat, to the point where mainstream commentators on TV news shows will criticize him for pandering to AIPAC. This is probably better news anyway–I don’t think one can ever trust a politician very much, not even the best ones, but it’s good that the pro-Palestinian side has enough clout to make him back off when he panders a little too much to AIPAC.

  • Suzanne June 7, 2008, 4:05 AM

    I was disappointed to hear Obama pandering so, especially to the point of giving away Jerusalem which is an issue to be bargained in a deal. It’s incredible how AIPAC intimidates.

    BTW The Forward had a good editorial:

    Delegates Behaving Badly

  • Suzanne June 7, 2008, 4:10 AM
  • mia June 7, 2008, 11:44 AM

    I don’t know. Looks like the progressives that supported Obama are bending over backwards to spin his statements in a way that would continue justifying their support. I mean seriously – how can Jerusalem remain undivided and the capital of Israel while sovereignty over it is shared by two governments?

    Say what you will about AIPAC but it is clear that they continue to do their job extremely well – Republican or Democrat, no one can get elected President without articulating a pro-Israel policy acceptable to AIPAC’s constituency. That this remains true in the Walt and Mearsheimer era must be a great source of frustration to you Richard. And where is JStreet in all of this?

  • Suzanne June 8, 2008, 11:42 AM

    Actually I do not see why Jerusalem cannot be the capital of both Israel and Palestine and remain undivided. This requires some cooperation. The city remains whole, and the Arab sections and Jewish sections remain ( and are open) and the Old City has some form of joint sovereignty. The Old City can also become an UNESCO world heritage site which amazingly it is not yet.

  • Ira Glunts June 9, 2008, 11:10 AM

    Dennis Ross, a diplomat who was involved in Middle East peace talks for the administrations of the first President Bush and President Bill Clinton, …. said he saw “no calibration” in Mr. Obama’s stance, which he said “does not contradict in any way, shape or form what our policy has historically been.”

    The NY Times in a June 7 article about Obama’s “undivided Jerusalem” statement.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/07/us/politics/07obama.html?em&ex=1212984000&en=aeb3dc412d5e97df&ei=5087

    The Times does not mention that Mr. Ross is an advisor to the Obama campaign and that he works for an AIPAC affiliated think-thank.

    Also, the Times neglected to note that spokespersons for the White House and the State Department made statements clarifying that an “undivided Jerusalem” is not the official US policy.

    This is the first time Obama has clearly and unequivocally positioned himself to the “right” of the Bush Administration. I do not think it will be the last time either. (Think Afghanistan)

    He may have curried favor in the eyes of AIPAC, but at the price of losing the confidence of Palestinians and Arabs. Such trust would be a good think to have if Obama is elected President. That is if he wants the represent the real interests of the United States and Israel in the Middle East.

    With advisors like Ross, Obama may yet be the one who will authorize an illegal, unnecessary and catastrophic bombing of Iran.

    Yes, he can!!!!

  • Richard Silverstein June 9, 2008, 1:12 PM

    Obama bomb Iran??? Ira, I’m surprised at how far off the deep end that statement is.

    @Mia:

    no one can get elected President without articulating a pro-Israel policy acceptable to AIPAC’s constituency. That this remains true in the Walt and Mearsheimer era must be a great source of frustration to you Richard.

    AIPAC’s power declines by the day. I’m not frustrated by AIPAC’s stranglehold on U.S. policy toward Israel. I’m extremely hopeful that the chances of having a reasonable U.S. policy increase by the day–esp. if Obama is elected.

    You don’t seem to have yr finger on the pulse of the American Jewish community or the gradually diminishing role played by AIPAC in dominating discourse.

  • Ira Glunts June 9, 2008, 4:49 PM

    –Obama bomb Iran??? Ira, I’m surprised at how far off the deep end that statement is. — Richard Silverstein

    “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — everything.”
    Barack Obama at AIPAC

    What do you think this meant to the AIPAC members? I believe that he will do “everything,” which seems clear to me includes a pre-emptive strike.

    …when Mr. Obama opened his general election campaign this week with a major speech on Middle East policy, the substantive strategy he outlined was, in many respects, not very much different from that of the Bush administration — or that of Republican Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Washington Post
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/06/AR2008060603646.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

    The above is from a Washington Post editorial subtitled “After all, he doesn’t see the region much differently than President Bush does.”

    I just hope that you will keep an open mind to Obama’s Middle East policy as it is articulated during the campaign. If you see him veer too far in the Bush/Cheney/AIPAC direction, in addition to you general support, some specific constructive criticism from Jews in the progressive community, such as yourself, may actually help him.

  • mia June 10, 2008, 4:55 AM

    Sorry Richard, but diminishing every day by what standard? Their ability to raise funds? Nope – donations are up. Their ability to affect policy decisions on a national level? The events of the past week seem seem to contradict that. Is it because they have competition? I didn’t see any potential future Presidents address JStreet or any other progressive group. AIPAC has always been the subject of criticism – you don’t get to the position they are at without making some enemies. And you certainly don’t get there by resting on your laurels and not fighting back when your position is threatened. AIPAC has proven to be a nimble organization and the rumors of their demise may be a bit premature. And I say this without passing any judgment on the worth of the organization. I’m just making an objective assessment.

  • Richard Silverstein June 10, 2008, 9:49 AM

    There has never been a J Street to challenge AIPAC on policy initiatives nor to fund progressive candidates who will take a more independent position on U.S. Israel policy. Until the past few yrs, no groups were willing to take on AIPAC & their stupid counter productive legislative initiatives. Congress is actually so dislikes some of them that three small DC Jewish groups put a wrench in their gears 2 or 3 times in the past yr or so & caused several bills AIPAC had essentially drafted to be pulled & rewritten to be less offensive.

    If Obama becomes president, this process will be furthered along as he will be a far more forceful, independent figure when it comes to resolving the I-P conflict. That’s why most AIPAC leaders & members actually suspect him, his motives & his supposed softness to Israel. And don’t kid yrself–the fact that he received a warm response at the conference has a lot more to do w. the fact that he’s a winner. Had he merely been a candidate w/o a mandate he would’ve been received much more cooly.

    Did you see Jon Stewart’s skewering of AIPAC on Youtube? If you didn’t you should. I’m aware of no comedian or entertainer who’s ever mocked AIPAC before. And mock it he did–with gusto. Have you read Chaim Waxman’s sociology paper on the decline of youth affiliation w. the Jewish community & the fact that he blames the “good old boys” running Jewish organizations? If not, you should. Their insularity, their arrogance, their homogeneity, their obsessive focus on issues the young care less about (being pro-Israel, anti-Semitism, etc.)–all this makes for a constant downturn in the rate of affiliation. AIPAC’s fault? You bet, though not theirs alone.

    How about Jewish opinion surveys which show that the body of American Jews disagrees with AIPAC’s positions on a wide variety of Middle Eastern issues (settlements, 2 state solution, Iran, etc.).

    AIPAC is not just “subject to criticism.” It is CONSTANTLY the subject of criticism. ANd rightfully so. What other Jewish group tries to pass along U.S. government documents to Israeli agents as Weissman & Rosen are alleged to have done?

    AIPAC is not a “nimble organization.” It is a dinosaur like much of the Israel lobby. It is a battleship & lumbers along through the seas. When time comes to have to change course it cannot correct its course. It takes a yr. & a day to turn itself around if it ever does.

    I say this without passing any judgment on the worth of the organization. I’m just making an objective assessment.

    Hardly. I don’t mind you cheerleading for AIPAC. Lots of people do. But to claim you haven’t “passed judgment” or that yours is an “objective assessment” is disingenuous. Have the courage of yr convictions. Admit that you’re a big fan & be done w. it. It’s OK. Lots of people are enamored of AIPAC. I don’t blame you for it. I only ask that you, unlike most of its other fans, acknowledge the “objective” phenomena occuring which militate against AIPAC’s continued long term hegemony over the Israel issue in our community.