Obama Walks Back Jerusalem Remarks

Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama "quickly backtracked" from his remarks in a speech to AIPAC that Jerusalem "must remain undivided," a statement that had drawn widespread criticism from Palestinians, the Washington Post reports.

In a interview Thursday with CNN, Obama said:

"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.

Jewish Voice for Peace welcomed Senator Obama's clarification, noting that his original statement "undermined the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that Obama promises to promote," adding

"Indeed, declaring Jerusalem as Israeli-ruled-only violates U.S. policy and international standards. It ignores Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem and the more than 240,000 Palestinian residents there, while implicitly supporting Israel's continued land expropriation, demolition of Palestinian homes, and expansion of settlement building, such as the 900 tenders issued to new housing for Jewish Israelis in East Jerusalem this week."

While Obama's clarification certainly undoes some of the damage of his original statement, it's undoubtedly still the case that the net effect of Senator Obama and Senator McCain's appearances at AIPAC last week and their remarks there made the prospects of a constructive U.S. role in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace more remote.

Indeed, the same day Obama spoke to AIPAC, Palestinian President Abbas called for a resumption of dialogue between his Fatah movement and Hamas. While in terms of Palestinian interests, this is a very sensible policy, it's also a symptom of the breakdown of the current diplomatic process. President Abbas' statement has been interpreted among Palestinians as an admission that he's not getting anything out of diplomacy with the U.S. and Israel. Senator Obama's and Senator McCain's remarks at AIPAC have added weight to the widespread belief in the region that U.S. policy is beholden to the right-wing in Israel, there is no prospect of change on the horizon, and those who wish to secure Palestinian rights will have to look for friends elsewhere.

Senators Obama and McCain could easily do something about this. They could take this opportunity to affirm their support for Palestinian rights, as they have both done in the past -- McCain, most famously, when in an apparently unscripted burst of empathy he explained to an interviewer his understanding of why Palestinians voted for Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.

If you agree that Senators Obama and McCain should affirm their support for Palestinian rights, Jewish Voice for Peace and Just Foreign Policy encourage you to ask them to do so.