Schumer: Jerusalem platform omission a 'mistake'

September 6, 2012 - 4:48 PM
Democratic Convention

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — One of President Barack Obama's top allies said Thursday that Democrats made a mistake when they omitted from the party platform a reference to Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"It's not that someone had a plan, 'Let's back off the long Democratic Party policy that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told The Associated Press a day after the omission and reinstatement of the language caused dissension among delegates at the Democratic National Convention. "It was just sort of left out."

Told of the omission, Obama directly ordered the language to be restored, Schumer said.

The restored language contradicts U.S. policy. It says that Jerusalem "is and always will be" the capital of Israel, then adds that its final status is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate. It also said Jerusalem should remain an undivided city accessible to all faiths.

Asked Thursday what the U.S. believes the capital of Israel is, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell refused to answer the question directly, saying Thursday: "Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved by the parties."

For decades, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have said it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to settle Jerusalem's final status — essentially a neutral position amid rivaling territorial claims. Both sides consider the city their capital, and its status has long been among the thorniest issues in Mideast peace talks.

The State Department website lists Jerusalem as Israel's capital — but with a footnote that further muddies the U.S. position. "Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950," it says. "The United States, like nearly all other countries, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv."

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Democrats' decision might just be "election propaganda." He said a failure to recognize the Palestinian claim to east Jerusalem will "destroy the peace process" and lead to "endless war."

The vote on the convention floor Wednesday caught many delegates off-guard and inspired some to boo, exposing divisions in the Democratic Party over U.S.-Israeli relations.

When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention chairman, called for a voice vote, the ayes and nays were equally loud. He called for a second. The result was louder but still uncertain. Villaraigosa appeared to look for help from the sidelines and then called for yet another vote. He then declared the amendment passed.

The platform already contained language asserting an "enduring commitment to Israel's security."

But GOP officials argued that not taking a position on Jerusalem's status in the party platform raised questions about Obama's support for the Mideast ally.

Democrats also re-inserted a reference to God, because most Democrats are people of faith, Schumer said

Republican challenger Mitt Romney, in an interview with Fox News before the changes were made, said omitting God "suggests a party that is increasingly out of touch with the mainstream of the American people."

The hurried effort to correct the document Wednesday underscored the Obama camp's desire to deny Romney any opening with Jewish voters and donors in the tight presidential race.

Obama closes the Democratic National Convention Thursday night when he formally accepts his party's nomination for president.

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Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.