Candidate Obama Also Called Jerusalem Israel’s Capital, Then Backtracked

Patrick Goodenough | July 31, 2012 | 4:30am EDT
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Then-Senator Barack Obama addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington D.C. on June 4, 2008. (AP Photo)

( – While campaigning for the presidency in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama called Jerusalem the capital of Israel when addressing a pro-Israel audience, just as Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney did this week.

On June 4 of that year – one day after announcing he had secured the required number of delegates to win the Democratic nomination – Obama delivered a speech at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference.

Any negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he said, “must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state with secure, recognized, defensible borders. And Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.”

The pledge brought a standing ovation from the 7,000-plus AIPAC audience, praise from pro-Israel organizations in the U.S. – and an Arab outcry.

“The whole world knows that holy Jerusalem was occupied in 1967 and we will not accept a Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state,” P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Ramallah.

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Hours later, the senator for Illinois told CNN, “Well, 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.” A spokesman for his campaign sought to explain that what Obama opposed was a return to a city divided by “barbed wire and checkpoints as it was in 1948-67.”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney places a prayer note into the cracks between the ancient stones during a a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Visiting the city on Sunday, Romney told an audience, “It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”

Asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer later whether he considers Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, the former Massachusetts governor replied: “Yes, of course. A nation has the capacity to choose its own capital city, and Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”

White House and State Department spokesmen on Monday reiterated that administration’s policy that the status of Jerusalem must be settled through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

“It’s the view of this administration that the capital should be determined in final status negotiations between parties,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

“I would remind you that that is the position that has been held by previous administrations both Democratic and Republican. So, if Mr. Romney disagrees with that position, he is also disagreeing with positions taken by previous presidents like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan,” he added.

‘Recognizing the truth’

Democratic party platforms have included references to Jerusalem every presidential election year since 1972 (except for 1988), while the Republican platform has done so each presidential cycle since 1980. The references have variously described the city as Israel’s capital, insisted that it remain undivided, and supported moving the U.S. Embassy there from its current location in Tel Aviv.

Most recently, the 2008 Democratic platform stated, “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,” while the GOP’s 2008 platform read, “We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.”

Presidential candidates from both parties have also, while campaigning, voiced support for Israel’s stance on Jerusalem – and for the U.S. to move its embassy to the city, in line with bipartisan legislation passed in 1995.

Republican candidates George W. Bush and John McCain Democrats Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry all spoke during their respective campaigns in favor of relocating the embassy.

The 2012 Republican primary campaign was no different. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich all pledged to move the embassy to Jerusalem – in the case of Bachman and Gingrich, on their first day in office.

The 1995 embassy law required the move to take place by no later than May 1999, but included authority for the president to postpone the relocation for “national security” reasons for consecutive six-monthly periods, a waiver invoked in turn by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama.

Just two weeks ago, Secretary of State Clinton during a visit to Jerusalem appeared to momentarily overlook successive administrations’ long-held policy, when she used the phrase “here in Israel” more than once while in the city.

On Monday, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, the Orthodox Union, praised Romney for what it called “his clear statement recognizing the truth that the holy city of Jerusalem serves as the capital of the modern State of Israel, just as it has served as the capital of Israel and the Jewish people in centuries past.”

Back in June 2008, the Orthodox Union also welcomed Obama’s AIPAC remarks on Jerusalem – but after his subsequent revision said it was “extremely disappointed.”

“In the current context, everyone understands that saying “Jerusalem … must remain undivided” means that the holy city must remain unified under Israeli rule, as it has been since 1967,” executive director for public policy Nathan Diament said at the time.

Israel annexed the eastern parts of Jerusalem after capturing it during the 1967 Six Day War, before which those areas were occupied by Jordan for 19 years.

Israel says its claim to Jerusalem is “eternal,” going back 3,000 years to the reign of King David from the city.

The Palestinians want to establish the capital of a future independent state in Jerusalem, and P.A. leaders say the issue is a pivotal one – even though the Palestine Liberation Organization’s foundational covenant, adopted in 1964, contained not a single reference to the city.

Jerusalem’s importance to Muslims is derived from the claim that Mohammed visited it on his winged steed during his “night journey” from Mecca to heaven.

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