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On The Obama Jerusalem Flap

Barack Obama's position on the future of Jerusalem is crystal clear. Of course, there are some people who want it to seem muddied and muddled, among them those embattled leftists (many Jewish) who want him to appear as anti-Israel as they are. It won't work; he is, as I've said many times, a good Zionist, like Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan, Al Gore and George W. Bush. Forgive the mixing of types. But that has been the range of American support for Israel for decades.

There is also a somewhat larger group of right-wingers (also many of them Jews) who are deft at the blogosphere and insistent that Obama is no friend of Israel, at all.  Of course, these men and women are not antagonistic toward Israel in the slightest. But they seem to be more comfortable with the friendship of John Haggee than with the Zionist solidarity of any Democrat.

What's the new fuss about? On Wednesday, Obama told the AIPAC conference in Washington that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." On Thursday, he told CNN that, of course, Jerusalem will be part of whatever negotiations take place in the context of a peace effort. Does the second statement contradict the other, as Obama's critics have mobilized themselves into charging?

Surely, even rabid McCain supporters understand that there will have to be some parley before there's an agreement, even an agreement short of full peace. This is so self-evident that I am stunned that one has to assert the obvious. (I myself doubt that there will be an agreement of any sort any time soon. But that's another matter.)

So let's examine what Obama believes. One that Jerusalem is and will continue to be the capital of the Jewish state. There are no ifs or buts about that. This was not always the official American position. Still, it is now, and Obama has affirmed it will continue to be American policy under his presidency. Frankly, unless Jimmy Carter were suddenly to pick up a second term it is inconceivable that any American president would renege on this.

Obama also asserted that the city will remain undivided. This is his guarantee of American backing for a city map that will not cut off the Mount of Olives from the rest of Jerusalem and that Pisgat Ze'ev and Neve Ya'akov which, east of Arab neighborhoods, were added and annexed to Jerusalem after 1967 and will remain in Jerusalem. 

But keep in mind that these intricate matters must be hashed out and ratified at the negotiating table. Unilateral action is always unstable, and these acts will become permanent in the eyes of the Palestinians .

There are Israeli interests that depend on the unification of the city. Many Arabs have been sneaking into Jerusalem to live ihere precisely because they do not want to live under Palestinian sovereignty. Not at all. This race to the city continues the demographic contest in Jerusalem that goes back to the 1840's and which has been continuously and decisively won by the Jews. That's one of the reasons why many Israelis, hard-line and soft -- most Israelis, in fact -- want an independent Palestinian state.

There are many Arab neighborhoods not only in Jerusalem but on the periphery of it. Jews need not be guaranteed undivided access to Sur Bahir and Jabul Mukhabir and perhaps a dozen other Palestinian areas. The question is what rights will their inhabitants have to work in Jerusalem? Or visit Jerusalem? Can anybody pretend that this will be determined without negotiations with the Palestinians?

It's easy to utter "eternal and unified capital of Israel." But Israel does not want that as a slogan or a cliche. Jewish force can keep it that way. But unless it is negotiated there will always be the nagging question as to whether the world acknowledges the fact. In the meantime, all of the embassies in Israel are in Tel Aviv.