Until We Have Built an Embassy

September 10, 2012 Topic: Politics Region: Israel

Until We Have Built an Embassy

The DNC's initial failure to commit to a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is much ado about nothing.

Fans of the television sitcom Seinfeld may recall an episode in which Jerry and George pitch a new show to NBC, explaining to producers that it is a show "about nothing." That concept of much ado about nothing also could be applied to what the The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg has described as "the DNC's Jerusalem Imbroglio." (The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin referred to it as a "debacle" while the Daily Beast raised the specter of a "hurricane").

This minicrisis about nothing was ignited after the Democratic National Committee (DNC) issued a new draft of the party's platform. Unlike the 2008 platform, it didn't refer to Jerusalem as Israel's capital. "The Obama Administration has followed the same policy towards Jerusalem that previous U.S. administrations of both parties have done since 1967," the DNC explained in an earlier statement. "As the White House said several months ago, the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in the final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians—which we also said in the 2008 platform."

The statement makes a lot of sense to those of us who belong to the reality-based community. In fact, it states the obvious, that the final political status of Jerusalem will have to be determined in negotiations, as both the Israelis and the Palestinians recognized when they agreed to do just that during the 2000 Camp David summit.

As Israeli Zionist author—and a current resident of Jerusalem—Gershom Gorenberg put it in the American Prospect, by omitting a reference to Jerusalem in the original draft of their platform, the Democrats "had brought a moment of honesty to the fantasy-ridden American political discussion about Israel."

But presidential election campaigns are not always won by those who tell the truth. And in a year in which much of what the Republican candidate is saying about foreign policy seems to be produced by the same guys who got us into Iraq, President Obama and the Democrats are being forced to demonstrate that they too can play in a make-believe world—in which American politicians have to agree that Washington supports Israel's claim to the city as the "eternal and undivided capital" and pledge that the United States will relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But Washington doesn't really support this idea.

This didn’t stop former Republican senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who suggested that the omission of Jerusalem from the draft platform reflected "a radical shift" in the orientation of the Democratic Party, "away from Israel." Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also joined the criticism: "It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President's Obama shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel's capital," he said in a statement.

Interestingly enough, both the 1996 Democratic platform and the one issued by the Republicans in 2000 called for moving the U.S. embassy, suggesting a change after Bill Clinton and George W. Bush became the heads of their parties.

And unlike in 2008 when the Republicans expressed support for "Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel" and for moving the U.S. embassy to that city, the GOP platform this year actually sounds more diplomatic. It doesn't call for relocating the U.S. ambassador to Jerusalem but envisions instead "two democratic states—Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine—living in peace and stability." That sounds very much like the new language in the Democratic platform: "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."

"It's shocking that anybody would make such a proposal," said Reagan-era secretary of state George Shultz in 1988, after then Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis called for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Several election cycles later, the Republican candidate has made a similarly "shocking" proposal, stating that the U.S. embassy should move. 

Presidential aspirants often say many things that they have no intention of fulfilling and that are expected to be forgotten if they get elected. Since a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem would undermine any future negotiations toward Middle East peace, let’s hope it turns out to be another forgotten campaign promise.

Leon Hadar, senior analyst at Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting group, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.