The Democratic Party platform omitted a passage that declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a move giving Republican Mitt Romney a fresh opening to cast President Barack Obama as a weak supporter of the U.S. ally.
“President Obama and the Democratic Party maintain an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” states the start of the section of the Democratic platform related to the Middle East. The three-paragraph statement vows an “enduring commitment” to Israel, advocates for a two-state solution in the conflict with Palestinians and promises to increase spending on security.
It says nothing, though, about Jerusalem -- a change from four years ago, when Democrats stated unequivocally that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.”
Romney, who long has criticized Obama for his stand on Israeli security, called it “unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced” the president’s “shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”
“As president, I will restore our relationship with Israel and stand shoulder to shoulder with our close ally,” Romney said in a statement released by his campaign yesterday.
Democrats said the platform didn’t represent a weakening of their support for Israel and said the Obama administration has taken the same position on Jerusalem as past presidents.
“As the White House said several months ago, the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- which we also said in the 2008 platform,” Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Melanie Roussell said in a statement today. “This is just another attempt by the Romney campaign to turn our support for Israel -- which has always been bipartisan -- into a partisan wedge issue by playing politics.”
Republican and Democratic leaders have called for Jerusalem to be the undivided capital of Israel, and they frequently promise to move the U.S. embassy to there from Tel Aviv -- a pledge that plays well with many Jewish voters in pivotal swing states such as Florida and Ohio.
The vow is almost entirely about domestic politics: Once in office, politicians have done little to enforce the policy, largely because it would undermine attempts to forge a peace deal in the region. Palestinians would like to locate the capital of a future state in East Jerusalem, dividing the city with Jewish leaders.
Then-candidate George W. Bush declared in a 2000 speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that he would move the U.S. embassy “as soon as” he took office. Six months after taking office, he signed a waiver putting off the move -- a decision he reauthorized for the rest of his presidency.
Obama, too, called for Jerusalem to remain the undivided capital four years ago, in a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
While Jewish voters overwhelmingly backed Obama four years ago, support for him among them has softened, according to some polls, amid concerns that the administration is being too tough on Israel and reports of a tense relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Romney included a stop in Israel during a trip overseas in July and met with Netanyahu, a longtime friend.
Romney’s campaign doesn’t expect to win a majority of the Jewish votes, though they see an opportunity to gain enough to change the outcome in a few swing states.