Are we really supposed to trust these people?

The outrageousness of the stories surrounding the Democratic Party platform’s now-you see-them, now-you-don’t sections relating to Israel and Jerusalem grows daily, exceeded only by the cynicism of the party spokesmen peddling them.  On the bright side, the entertainment value of the saga is pretty high.

Since 1972, language affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has been a regular feature of the Democrats’ platform.  But the Obama administration has made it clear through word and deed that it does not endorse such a position. It has publicly chastised Israel for building homes in Jerusalem and has taken to referring to Jerusalem and Israel as separate entities.

The 2012 platform omitted any endorsement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  Furthermore, it no longer calls for the creation of a democratic Palestinian state, no longer calls for isolating Hamas until it renounces terror and recognizes Israel, and opens the door to endorsing the so-called Palestinian “right of return” to Israel.

When word of these changes spread, the Democrats scrambled to control the political damage.  No Democrat leaders could account for the apparently immaculate disappearance of the pro-Israel platform language—until a couple of the platform drafters let slip that they made the changes to bring the platform in line with President Obama’s policies.

Sensing a PR disaster, the party leaders pushed through a platform change—in spite of the vocal opposition from at least half the convention delegates—to add language saying “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.”  They stressed that the President himself insisted on the change.

Which brings us to last Thursday’s State Department press conference.  Scarcely 24 hour after Obama’s allegedly personally ordering the reinstatement of Jerusalem-is-Israel’s-capital language into the platform, his own State Department was asked which city the U.S. recognizes as the capital of Israel.  In one of those surreal exchanges that have become the hallmark of this Most Transparent Administration In History, Patrick Ventrell, acting spokesman, engaged in the following exchange with reporters:

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, longstanding Administration policy, both in this Administration and in previous administrations across both parties, is that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. So that’s longstanding Administration policy and continues to be so.

The reporters made several attempts to ask the question in ways less dodge-able:  “I mean, no city is recognized as a capital by the U.S. Government?”—“That means Jerusalem is not a part of Israel?”— “Are there any other countries in the world where the U.S. doesn’t know what the capital is or won’t say what the capital of a country is?”

Each version elicited only the same hall-of-mirrors non-answer from Obama administration spokesman.  Finally, one reporter managed to prompt a more definitive non-response:

QUESTION: What does the U.S. think the capital of Israel is? What do you –

MR. VENTRELL: As I’ve just said, we believe that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status –

QUESTION: I’m not asking you that question. I’m asking you what you think the capital is.

MR. VENTRELL: And my response is that Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations.

QUESTION: She didn’t ask about Jerusalem, though.

MR. VENTRELL: Look, this is something we’ve been through at this podium. Toria [Department spokesman Victoria Nuland] has been through it before. We’ve repeated it many times. You know that the position is. It hasn’t changed for decades.

QUESTION: Wait, I know that. And I don’t want to play the verbal game, I’m just very curious if you actually have a position about a capital of that country. And if you don’t, if – I just would like to hear you say you don’t.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, right now, Nicole –

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. VENTRELL: — the situation is that we have an Embassy in Tel Aviv that represents our interests with the Government of Israel but that the issue of Jerusalem is one that has to be resolved between the two parties. That’s all I can say on this.

In other words, pay no attention to that platform position you were just told was personally ordered by President Obama.  “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” was merely a meaningless political bone thrown to calm barking Jewish voters, not a reflection of any actual policy.  Not for even 24 hours.  Obama’s reassuring platform policy intervention was just words, easily interchangeable with their opposites.

Are Jewish Democrats not insulted that they are expected to believe that Obama cut through cumbersome platform procedures and language rules to order the Jerusalem language change, yet can’t get his own State Department to say anything reflecting that unambiguous official position?

Pro-Israel Democrats may be wising up: the latest post-convention polling shows Obama  now drawing 59% of Jewish votes–a full 25% less than he drew in 2008.

In fairness to Obama, the expiration date on his pro-Israel Jerusalem statements isn’t any shorter than it used to be.  After all, in 2008 he also soothed an AIPAC audience anxious about his Israel positions, declaring:  ”Let me clear…Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.”  Well, that was certainly clear.  At least, until he un-declared his clear position the next day.

This gamesmanship serves no one, except perhaps Obama in his short-term election quest.  Such say-anything unseriousness undermines the confidence of all parties in this volatile region in the reliability of American policy and promises.  If America wants to promote peace, it needs credibility—when making both promises and threats.

Accordingly, from currently undivided Jerusalem–for 3,000 years, the only capital of Israeli states both present and past–there is a widespread feeling that the expiration date on this administration cannot come soon enough.

Abe Katsman is an attorney and political commentator living in Jerusalem.  He serves as Counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel.

 

 

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