Major embarrassment for Obama on Jerusalem


By Jonathan Cummings, September 6, 2012

The word from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, is that Barack Obama has an “unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security”. His party believes that “there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met” and, together, they “encourage all parties to be resolute in the pursuit of peace”.

So far, so good. The combination of peace and security is a touchstone for Israelis. Anyone who can credibly deliver both answers most Israelis’ wishes; stray too far from either and support will evaporate. It’s been a winning slogan for Israeli prime ministers from left and right and it is the mantra of international efforts to advance peace in the region.

But that is not how the Democratic Party’s platform, as originally presented, will read to Israelis. Gone was the language from 2008 that stressed the need for the US to lead peace efforts, distancing the Democrats from those who still hope for strong international pressure to cut a deal with the Palestinians. No mention, either, that Palestinian refugees will be citizens of Palestine, not Israel, and no talk of concerted international steps to isolate Hamas. No talk of Hamas at all, in fact.

The language was worryingly predictable for those who dismiss Mr Obama’s presidency as a master-class in political illiteracy on the Middle East, or who interpret the originally drafted policy platform as a warning to Benjamin Netanyahu not to overstep in pressuring the US on Iran.

But the shibboleth is Jerusalem. Where the two previous party platforms declared “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel”, this year’s model was completely silent on the issue. Mitt Romney had branded the omission as a “shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital”.

The party hierarchy realised, in the middle of the convention, how damaging this had become and rushed to amend the platform to include Jerusalem — forcing the change through even though the convention itself clearly did not have the required two thirds majority.

While there is no realistic prospect of serious talks resuming between Israel and the PA at the moment, it’s easy to see the temptation to dial down the language on the peace process. All eyes are, and should be, on Iran. But if the peace process is to be parked for now, it needs to be done sensitively. If Obama is re-elected, his four years of experience might put him in a better position than his rival to help Israelis and Palestinians out of conflict. Neither he nor we can afford more missteps.

Jonathan Cummings is a commentator on Israeli politics, based in New York

Last updated: 3:26pm, September 6 2012