CHARLOTTE — An amendment to the Democratic platform and surprise floor fight here Wednesday have officially pushed President Obama’s official position on Israel to the right, clarifying that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel.
After the convention approved, over vocal objections from the floor, reinstating language from the 2008 platform declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, the Democratic National Committee issued a statement from Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz asserting that the change reflected Obama’s own position.
“The platform is being amended to maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the President and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”
She added that “It has been the policy of both Republican and Democratic administrations for decades that Jerusalem is a final status issue to be negotiated directly between the two parties.”
The Obama campaign and White House confirmed that the DNC statement reflected the president’s position, which was not entirely clear up to this point.
For one thing, the “personal views” referenced in the 2008 DNC statement were a matter of some debate at the time. Obama said during a Jerusalem visit at the time that the city “must remain undivided” as the nation’s capital. Both President Clinton and then-President George W. Bush took the position that the issue should be left up to negotiations with Palestinian officials. 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.” But he added that “as a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute” creating a divided city.
As president, Obama seemed to follow administration precedent, leaving it up to the two negotiating parties. In recent weeks, Mitt Romney attacked Obama on the issue, challenging him to unequivocally declare Jerusalem Israel’s capital, producing some awkward non-responses from the White House. The administration finally stated that “The status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.” But the attacks from the right began anew when the DNC decided to drop the language on Jerusalem, while approving planks declaring unequivocal support for Israel.
Obama’s new statement appears to move him to the right on Jerusalem rhetorically, even as it maintains that ultimately the issue is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve.
Pro-Israel groups praised the new amendment. “We welcome reinstatement to the Democratic platform of the language affirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” a statement from AIPAC read. “Together, these party platforms reflect strong bipartisan support for the US - Israel relationship.”
The Arab American Institute, however, condemned the move as “a clear case of putting pandering above responsible politics,” saying that the original 2012 language reflected the reality of the last several administrations’ position. They also noted vocal objections on the floor that many observers suggested outnumbered the supporters who ultimately won the vote.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.