A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Democrats and the Jerusalem Flap

I don't discuss US politics much here, though it's not always easy in a Presidential election year, and this is the first Presidential election since MEI started this blog. Opinions expressed here are my own, not MEI's, but I'm still not going to take partisan sides on US political issues, except as they involve the Middle East.

My Middle Eastern readers, however, may be puzzled by some of the rituals of the US nominating conventions, especially the strange events this afternoon relating to Jerusalem.

US policy, under Democratic and Republican Presidents, remains officially that the status of Jerusalem is a final status issue to be decided in negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians. As a result, the US Embassy in Israel, like other foreign Embassies (except for a tiny handful of Latin countries I think) remains in Tel Aviv. Our Jerusalem consulate exists in a sort of transnational status.

Nevertheless, every four years both major political parties declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Congress periodically votes to move the Embassy, but the President's foreign policy powers are then invoked to waive moving the embassy until a final status agreement.

For reasons still unclear (though this Laura Rozen column seems to explain it pretty well) the ritual declaration about Jerusalem was not included in this year's Democratic platform, despite otherwise extremely pro-Israeli provisions. Today an amendment from the floor was introduced to add the Jerusalem language, as well as a mention of God, which had also been omitted. The spin is that President Obama wanted these provisions included, but the result is to call attention to the ritualistic (and in real terms, rather meaningless) Jerusalem language. But it was done awkwardly, and the result was that the chairperson had to gavel through an alleged two-thirds majority on a voice vote, though only the truly faithful can hear two-thirds saying "aye" in the video below. It was handled rather poorly, but the result is not a change in US policy, just an invocation of a ritual shibboleth in American politics.

It has been asked, "why not just say that Jerusalem is the capital of both Israel and Palestine?" Good question.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

I will take sides on this. Writing as a registered Democrat who intends to vote for Obama, I thought this was a disgraceful bit of political pandering. Not that such things are new in how American politicians deal with Israel.