Reuters is reporting angry Palestinian reaction to Barack Obama’s statement yesterday at AIPAC that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” In response Mahmoud Abbas told reporters, “This statement is totally rejected,” and Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said Obama “has closed all doors to peace.”
Saying “Jerusalem” and “undivided” in the same sentence is an easy applause line at AIPAC, but we have to remember that when it comes to statements about Jerusalem, syntax is everything. In her official statement on Jerusalem, Hillary Clinton went so far as to use the words “undivided” and “capital” in the same clause: “Hillary Clinton believes that Israel’s right to exist … with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital … must never be questioned.” But as was pointed out to me in April, even Hillary’s stronger formulation left some wiggle room:
Well, [Clinton’s statement] is strong, but if people are determined to be a little bit creative in the way they interpret these things, ‘undivided’ sometimes literally means ‘don’t put the barbwire back up,'” said William Quandt, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia and a longtime observer of America’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. “In 1967 there was a divided Jerusalem,” he added, referring to the period before the 1967 war when Jerusalem was physically divided, a state of affairs to which no one wants to return.
Bottom line: The Jerusalem bit was hardly the worst section of Obama’s address, which Dana Milbank described today as the “full Monty” of “a pandering performance.”