Democratic National Confusion: what to do about Jerusalem?

The 2012 Democratic National Convention, held from September 4 to 6, is now history. Former US president Bill Clinton officially nominated current US president Barack Obama for re-election and Obama was nominated unanimously by the 5,556 delegates of the convention.

In general, Obama’s second coronation, which took place in North Carolina, ran on all cylinders – except for one notable exception. For while Bill Clinton’s speech galvanized the party faithful in Charlotte, the status of a pesky little faraway capital (or is it ‘seat of government’?) ignited a firestorm.

The screech heard around the world centered on the Democratic Party’s stance vis-à-vis Jerusalem. Initially, the policy platform did not make any mention of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While the relevant text was reintroduced a day later, the entire issue was handled in a rather clumsy fashion, resulting in a confusing vote and booing on the convention floor.

And while President Obama directed the Democratic Party to amend its platform to restore language declaring Jerusalem the Israeli capital, this restoration put the platform, a largely symbolic document, at odds with the official position of the government, which is that the city’s status should be determined in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

And this episode is but the latest and most glaring example of Barack Obama’s schizoid stance on Jerusalem.  

A few weeks ago, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to say which locality is the principal city of Israel. Then, just one day after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stated that he believed Jerusalem to be the capital, the White House decided to take a firm — and divergent — stance, claiming that Jerusalem isn’t currently – but could one day become – Israel’s capital.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest clarified matters a bit, saying that the view of the Obama administration is that the status of Jerusalem…”should be determined in final status negotiations between parties.”

Furthermore, this platform flip-flop cannot negate the fact that Barack Obama is the first American president to make an issue of the building of homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods begun in the immediate aftermath of the reunification of the city in 1967.That’s because even US administrations deemed less than friendly to Israel always took it as a given that these neighborhoods must be treated differently from West Bank settlements.

In 2010, the Obama administration condemned Israel’s decision to approve 1,600 new homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo as undermining Middle East peace talks.

So, is the Obama administration secretly planning to carve up Jerusalem? Difficult to say for, on the one hand, the commander-in-chief has repeatedly asserted that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.”

On the hand, Mr. Obama seems to contradict himself with periodic assertions to the effect that Jerusalem should also be the capital of a Palestinian state and have divided sovereignty.

Backing this assertion up is a recent official US State Department communication that labeled Jerusalem and Israel as separate entities. And previous to this incident, Obama’s White House came under fire when it was revealed that it had scrubbed all references to Jerusalem being part of the Jewish state from a collection of photos on its website.

Beyond the debate over Jerusalem, there’s Mr. Obama’s troubling shift away from long-standing US foreign policy regarding Israel’s borders. In 2011, President Obama said the borders of Israel and a Palestinian state should fall where they were before the 1967 war. This would put Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall, the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the hands of Hamas and Fatah.

At the very least one can defend Obama on the grounds that he has been steadfastly inconsistent. Running for president in 2008, candidate Obama said during a Jerusalem visit that the city “must remain undivided” as the nation’s capital.

However, after complaints from Palestinian leaders, Obama quickly clarified that “obviously, it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations.”

While political cryptologists will continue to search for meaning and continuity in Barack Obama’s Jerusalem stance, one thing has become crystal clear during the 44th American president’s tenure in office: Chicago’s most celebrated community organizer simply doesn’t understand the Middle East.

As for the Democratic national convention, Barack Obama astutely added a few lines proclaiming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to the platform out of political and electoral considerations and because of the sharp criticism from Israel and the US.

But what hasn’t been amended are growing signs of a diminishing US commitment to Israel and its currently undivided capital city, Jerusalem.


About the Author
Gidon Ben-Zvi, former Jerusalem Correspondent for the Algemeiner newspaper, is an accomplished writer who left behind Hollywood starlight for Jerusalem stone in 2009. After serving in an Israel Defense Forces infantry unit from 1994-1997, Ben-Zvi returned to the United States before settling in Israel, where he and his wife are raising their four children to speak fluent English – with an Israeli accent. Ben-Zvi's work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (