“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?