A minor revision of the Democratic Party’s platform statement on Jerusalem has led to one of the biggest faux-controversies to emerge during the Charlotte convention. The 2012 platform does not refer to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while the 2008 document did, prompting an attack from Mitt Romney:
It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital…Four years of President Obama’s repeated attempts to create distance between the United States and our cherished ally have led the Democratic Party to remove from their platform an unequivocal acknowledgment of a simple reality. As president, I will restore our relationship with Israel and stand shoulder to shoulder with our close ally.
The reasoning here is transparently silly. The 2012 Republican platform also revised its language on Jerusalem, removing language from the 2008 version that pledged both to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and to keep Jerusalem “undivided.” Does that mean a Romney administration would oppose the idea of an undivided Jerusalem that houses the American embassy?
Moreover, if official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was critical to U.S.-Israel relationship, the alliance would have been on its deathbed for the past three American administrations. And virtually every country in the world does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with most holding that the status of Jerusalem can only be decided through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations given competing claims to the city. Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama all have refused to implement a 1995 Congressional directive asking for the U.S. Embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as treating Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital either by moving the embassy or an official declaration would be perceived as privileging Israel’s claim, limiting America’s ability to serve as a neutral arbiter between Israelis and Palestinians.
Hence, the Obama administration is in step with the international community and previous administrations in holding that the final status of Jerusalem is an issue to be settled in negotiations. While presidential candidates often refer to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (as Obama did) or pledge to move the Embassy, their positions change quickly upon taking office. A Democratic official discussing the platform controversy made plain why this is the case, saying “There’s a difference between running for president and governing. … And when you govern on this issue, the official position of the United States has been for years and from administrations of both parties that the status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue.” It’s not as if a lack of American recognition will affect the fact on the ground that Jerusalem serves as Israel’s capital for the purposes of running its local government.
But the underlying theme behind the right-wing hysteria over the Jerusalem language is the bogus charge that Obama isn’t sufficiently pro-Israel. This is nonsense of course. Even Israel’s leaders have repeatedly said as much.