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Jerusalem a wedge issue? You bet

by Shmuel Rosner

August 7, 2012 | 6:46 am

Mitt Romney speaking in Jerusalem, July 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

‎“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning” ‎‎(Psalm 137:5)‎

‎“It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of ‎Israel,” presidential candidate Mitt Romney said last week, during his visit to the ‎Eternal City. And no less moving is to use Jerusalem as the primary topic ‎in a new Romney ad:

“As president, Barack Obama has never visited ‎Israel and refuses to recognize Jerusalem as its capital,” the ad says. ‎‎“Mitt Romney will be a different kind of president—a strong leader ‎who stands by our allies. He knows America holds a deep and ‎cherished relationship with Israel.” ‎

Obama indeed hasn’t visited Israel “as President.” He is not alone. It took ‎President George W. Bush beyond his first term to find time for a visit, and ‎President Ronald Reagan never made it at all. The visit issue is a non-issue. ‎Misgivings about Obama’s policies aside, him visiting Jerusalem would ‎not change much – if fact, I thought that the constant push for such a ‎visit was a lousy idea with potential to do more harm than good, and ‎wrote as much when this idea kept being floated as a possible remedy ‎to Obama-Netanyahu or Obama-Israel tense relations:‎

‎[W]ords alone will not make Israelis trust Obama. Israelis do not ‎suffer from lack of understanding of the issues; they suffer from ‎peace-fatigue. They look at “peace processes” with suspicion, ‎based on experience and events. They are scarred enough to ‎know what has work[ed] and what has not, and they are tired of ‎the good intentions of enthusiastic novices, believing that with ‎their youth and their smarts they’ll be able to come up with some ‎magic trick that can somehow round a square. What Obama needs ‎is a convincing plan that makes sense. ‎

As for Romney, the “different kind of President” – I’ll believe it when I ‎see it. True, he does refer to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Obama did the ‎exact same thing when he was still a candidate. Would Romney move ‎the American embassy to Jerusalem as a result of him being different? ‎Maybe, maybe not. Bush made such promise and never kept it. ‎Romney, to his credit, didn’t promise. He will be “different,” possibly, ‎he just won’t tell us how. ‎

So Romney’s new Jerusalem ad is full of nonsensical negligibles of little ‎importance. Except for one thing: Obama does refuse to recognize ‎Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A few days ago, White House spokesman ‎Jay Carney repeatedly and quite comically evaded a question about ‎which city the US government recognizes as Israel’s capital. ‎

QUESTION: “What city does this administration consider to be the ‎capital of Israel—Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?” ‎
CARNEY: “I haven’t had that question in a while. Our position has not ‎changed, Connie.” ‎
Q: “What is the position? What’s the capital?” ‎
CARNEY: “You know our position.” ‎
Q: “I don’t.” ‎
CARNEY: “She does know” ‎
Q: “Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?” ‎
CARNEY: “You know the answer. Yes.” ‎
Q: “No, I don’t know the answer. We don’t know the answer. Could you ‎just give us an answer? What do you recognize—what does?” ‎
CARNEY: “Our position hasn’t changed.”‎

Why wouldn’t Obama just say it? Well, I know the answer to that – it ‎complicates the peace process and angers Palestinians, and all that jazz. ‎But Obama could say that Jerusalem is the Israeli capital, and that in ‎final status negotiations the sides will determine if and how they’d like ‎to define Jerusalem in the future. Or he could say that Jerusalem is the ‎capital of Israel, and that any future arrangement in Jerusalem will ‎have to also consider Palestinian claims to the city. He could say many ‎things that would make it harder for Romney to turn Jerusalem into an ‎issue with the voters. ‎

If there’s one thing Jewish voters of many stripes still believe in – it is ‎Jerusalem’s status as the undivided capital of Israel. Fifty-nine percent ‎of them said (in 2011) that they oppose “compromise on the status of ‎Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction”. Even J Street ‎pollsters agree “that Jerusalem is the one final status issue where ‎American Jews have expressed difficulty reaching a compromise”. ‎

So two questions remain unanswered:‎

Why can’t President Obama just spell out the words that Candidate ‎Obama had no problem saying? ‎

Will President Romney repeat Candidate Romney’s words?‎

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