Obama’s Jerusalem backtrack

Wouldn’t ya just know that his newfound (just in time for his AIPAC speech) tough stance on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was too good to be true? Check this out (and make sure to note where I add the bolded emphasis):

Facing criticism from Palestinians, Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged today that the status of Jerusalem will need to be negotiated in future peace talks, amending a statement earlier in the week that Jerusalem “must remain undivided.”

Obama, during a speech Wednesday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-israel lobbying group, had called for Jerusalem to become the site of the U.S. embassy, a frequent pledge for U.S. presidential candidates. (It is now in Tel Aviv.) But his statement that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel drew a swift rebuke from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“This statement is totally rejected,” Abbas told reporters in Ramallah. “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.”

The Bush administration’s official position is that the status of Jerusalem is among the most sensitive issues and must be decided by the parties. Former President Bill Clinton, before he left office, had proposed a formula under which “Jerusalem should be an open and undivided city,” including locating the Palestian capital in East Jerusalem.

Obama quickly backtracked today in an interview with 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,” Obama said when asked whether Palestinians had no future claim to the city.

Obama said “as a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute” a division of the city. “And I think that it is smart for us to — to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in Old Jerusalem but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city.”

Gateway Pundit points out that Reuters carried a similar story about Obama caving to Pali pressure re: Jerusalem.

Team Obama, on the other hand, is saying this isn’t a backtrack:

Asked for comment, the Obama campaign put a reporter in immediate contact with Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla. — an Orthodox Jew, a strong supporter of Israel and Obama’s point man on many of these issues — who told ABC News, “that is not backtracking.”

“His position has been the same for the past 16 months,” Wexler said. “He believes Jerusalem should be an undivided city and must be the capital of a Jewish state of Israel. He has also said — and it’s the same position as President Bush, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert — that Jerusalem is of course a ‘final status’ issue,” meaning it would be one of the key and final points of negotiation for a Palestinian state. “And Sen. Obama as president would not dictate final status issues. He will permit the Palestinians and Israel to negotiate, and he would respect any conclusion they reach.”

Wexler concluded, “the articles are not picking up this position. They’re not contradictions — they’re the same position.”

The record seems to back Wexler’s argument that Obama has said both that Jerusalem should be Israel’s undivided capital, and that its status is ultimately up to Israel.

Well, ok, but I’m with Marc Ambinder on this one: Why didn’t Obama say all this during his AIPAC speech?

The problem for Obama is that his original comments were interpreted using the compiler that every partisan of the Middle East conflict has in the brain, and everyone, on all sides, took Obama to say that he was announcing a policy change. In other words, why not say just what he meant? To AIPAC’s audience, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided” might not have meant what Obama later claimed it meant — in fact, in meant the opposite, really, and unless Obama’s advisers mislead the candidate about the effect of those words (unlikely), Obama runs the risk of being accused of using language to obscure, rather than clarify, and to curry favor with a skeptical audience.

Why would Obama and his campaign risk this confusion? After all, a pander only works when you can get away with it. Every AIPAC attendee now knows what Obama really “meant,” and the usual hawk suspects are angry, and the usual dove suspects are happy.

Just words? Just speeches?

Related: I wrote yesterday about how an irritated Obama backed Senator Joe Lieberman into the wall yesterday in the US Senate and carried on a heated discussion, apparently due to frustration over Lieberman’s harsh criticisms of Obama’s Middle East agenda, as well as Lieberman’s support for John McCain. PrestoPundit pointed yesterday to a post Jim Geraghty wrote a couple of weeks ago regarding an incident that was alleged to have occured in the Illinois state Senate back in 2002 where Obama supposedly had to be restrained from punching a fellow Senator during a heated argument. Geraghty quoted from pages 125-126 of David Mendell’s biography of BO, which is titled: Obama: From Promise To Power:

Obama, to be sure, had allies in the black caucus, but he had his share of critics as well. His chief antagonists were Rickey Hendon, who represented a district on the city’s West Side, and Donne Trotter, ho would run against Obama for Congress.

Hendon and other African-American lawmakers from the West Side often found themselves at odds with their South Side brethren, but the rift between Hendon and Obama was particularly acute. Hendon and Trotter would “just give Barack hell” said Senator Kimberly Lightford, an Obama ally in the black caucus. Hendon, nicknamed “Hollywood” because he once aspired to produce films, was a flamboyant personality in Springfield, known for his smart-aleck humor and occasionally inappropriate public manner. In one legislative session, the two nemses nearly came to physical blows when Obama, apparently inadvertently, voted against a bill that included funding for a project that assisted Hendon’s district.

Years later, details of the incident remain in the eye of the beholder. Obama supporters say that Obama had stepped away from his seat and asked someone else to vote for him, not an uncommon practice considering the thousands of votes each session. His proxy, however, accidentally voted against his wishes. When Obama asked that the record reflect that he voted the wrong way, Hendon publicly accused Obama of duplicity. Hendon has never been shy about holding back his feelings, and he had a special way of penetrating Obama’s usually smooth exterior. Soon, the two men were shouting at each other on the senate floor. They took their disagreement into a nearby room, and a witness said that Obama had to be physically restrained. Neither man cares to discuss the incident today, but Hendon remains unconvinced of Obama’s explanation that his vote was accidental. Individuals close to the situation say Hendon still believes Obama voted against his project to pacify North Side fiscal conservatives who were leery of some West Side projects. For his part, the rarely reticent Hendon won’t discuss the altercation, except to confirm that it occurred. “I have been advised to leave Barack alone and that is what I am going to do” Hendon said. “I am going to let things stay in the past. It happened. That’s all I can say. It happened.”

The Houston Press’ Todd Spivak, who covered the last few years of Obama’s tenure in the Ill. state Senate, noted how Hendon seemed resentful at times over how Obama would get the credit for closing the deals on legislation other senators had worked on for years:

“I don’t consider it bill jacking. Ò€¦ But no one wants to carry the ball 99 yards all the way to the one-yard line, and then give it to the halfback who gets all the credit and the stats in the record book.”

Clearly these two had a tense relationship in the Ill. state Senate. Little did we know how tense it was.

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