Barack Obama on Wednesday:
"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."
Placing himself squarely in the center of a debate that both the Clinton and Bush administrations have steadily avoided. Huge headlines across Israel.
Obama on Thursday, after Mahmoud Abbas complained and his chief negotiator said Obama "has closed all doors to peace":
Well, 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."
The press writes that Obama backtracked; Obama's campaign does not concede the point
It's true that Obama's position as articulated throughout the campaign has been nuanced: that Jerusalem ought to be the permanent capital of Israel, and that it ought not be divided, as in physically, by some sort of Berlin Wall or barbed wire fence, but that, while not being physically divided, it is quite possible -- indeed, probable -- that final status negotiations will permit Palestinians to claim some part of the capital as their own. It is not inconsistent to believe that Jerusalem ought to be undivided and remain Israel's capital and at the same time, believe it is up to Israel and the Palestinians, in the course of their negotiations, to reach a two-state solution on their own. This is a mainstream American political position.
The problem for Obama is that his original comments were interpreted using the compiler that every partisan of the Middle East conflict has in the brain, and everyone, on all sides, took Obama to say that he was announcing a policy change. In other words, why not say just what he meant? To AIPAC's audience, "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided" might not have meant what Obama later claimed it meant -- in fact, in meant the opposite, really, and unless Obama's advisers mislead the candidate about the effect of those words (unlikely), Obama runs the risk of being accused of using language to obscure, rather than clarify, and to curry favor with a skeptical audience.
Why would Obama and his campaign risk this confusion? After all, a pander only works when you can get away with it. Every AIPAC attendee now knows what Obama really "meant," and the usual hawk suspects are angry, and the usual dove suspects are happy.
Here's one way to clarify Obama's position. When Obama takes office, will he move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem?
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