Jerusalem as Political Football

When the Democratic platform was initially silent on Jerusalem being Israel’s capital, Mitt Romney’s campaign pounced, questioning President Obama’s commitment to Israel and causing him to reinsert Jerusalem-as-capital language. But is this any way to deal with a complex foreign policy issue, asks ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Restoration to the Democratic Party’s platform of language declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel provides several reasons to shake one’s head, out of either bemusement or disgust.

We all know, of course, what this move is about: AIPAC lobbying and the Republicans’ belief that they can win votes by out-Israeling the Democrats led to a Democratic decision, evidently by President Obama himself, not to take a chance on losing votes by not having that language in the platform.

U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. (Photo credit: Krokodyl)

There is nothing unusual about this, with regard to how anything related to Israel customarily plays in American politics. But this particular move has other odd aspects.

One is that although restoration of the language may have been ordered by the President, it directly contradicts the administration’s policy on Jerusalem, which is that the city’s status should ultimately be determined through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. But the disconnect is true not only of the Democrats or the Obama administration; this has been the policy of the last several administrations, notwithstanding what has appeared in their respective parties’ platforms.

This is not to say that an election outcome would definitely make no difference regarding this issue. Any difference, however, would be chiefly a difference between a first-term president who would be running for re-election and has demonstrated an inclination to shape his positions in whatever way is needed to win elections, and a second-term president who would not be running for anything and thus would have more flexibility.

Another odd aspect arises when reflecting on comments by a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, as that campaign tried to capitalize on the fact that the Democrats had ever wavered on the issue at all. “Now is the time,” she said, “for President Obama to state in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”

“Believe”? That makes it sound as if the question is one of accepting some transcendental truth, rather than fashioning a diplomatic position.

If one were to deal in policies rather than posturing, her demand should be rephrased to one of the President stating in unequivocal terms whether he believes that the longstanding U.S. stance of being an honest broker should be abandoned in favor of fully taking Israel’s position on a major matter in dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, notwithstanding the legitimacy of the conflicting positions or how such a change in U.S. policy would affect U.S. interests in the Middle East.

The political posturing on this topic is reprehensible, mainly because it ignores the fact that U.S. interests differ from Israeli interests, not only on the salient issue of the moment regarding Iran but on other things as well. U.S. interests differ even more from a particular Israeli government’s conception of U.S. interests.

The disconnect between the politics of an issue and sound policy on the issue is especially marked on matters involving Israel because the Israel lobby is exceptionally strong in American politics.

But one could also look on this as an extreme example of a broader phenomenon, which is that some of the sharpest tensions in the making of foreign policy are not between political elements such as Republicans and Democrats (on Israel-related issues, look at how much supporters of President Obama can point to in response to the Republicans’ effort to pose as greater lovers of Israel) but instead between the realm of public politics — with all of its posturing — on one hand, and the realm of careful, real-world policy-making on the other hand.

Much foreign policy is constructed in the latter realm (mostly in many inter-agency deliberations involving bureaucrats and political appointees alike) with little interference from the former because it does not happen to involve salient issues in domestic politics or powerful domestic interests.

But sometimes the political realm intrudes. And when it does, it often does so in primitive and inconsistent ways that have more to do with posturing and pandering than with sound strategy, or with anything that makes the construction of sound strategy possible.

In an ideal system, democratic politics would yield broad principles and objectives that would serve as terms of reference for strategists inside government to construct policies. But unfortunately American democratic politics do not work that way.

The matter involving Jerusalem isn’t even one of the worst examples, because on this issue a policy has continued despite contrary posturing. It is a sad fact that to the extent U.S. foreign policy has exhibited wisdom and consistency, this is in spite of, not because of, the workings of the political system to which policymakers are ultimately answerable.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post  at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

Share this Article:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • NewsVine
  • Technorati
  • email

8 comments on “Jerusalem as Political Football

  1. F. G. Sanford on said:

    Do you “believe” Jerusalem is the capital of Israel? Suppose we asked Israel whether they “believed” Washington, D.C. were the capital of the United States? Obviously, the question would reflect our own self-doubt rather than the proposition’s legitimacy. This is a new twist on Israel’s favorite infantile word game: Do you “believe” in Israel’s right to exist? The very proposition suggests deep seated paranoia on the part of a political entity only too aware that rational people may perceive it to be an artificially created “state” enfranchised by British colonial power. The Balfour Letter appropriated land from indigenous people and permitted it to be populated by Europeans. That is the history, whether we “believe” otherwise or not. That history won’t go away, and Bronze-Age mythology will never legitimate an apartheid state whose human rights abuses make the Ku Klux Klan look like Boy-Scouts. Abetting Israel reminds me of the wealthy family with a spoiled child: every infantile whim is catered to in order to calm the child’s tantrums rather than responsibly nurturing appropriate behavior. When the child grows up and goes to jail, the family is bewildered. The court of world opinion is unlikely to show leniency, regardless of what the irresponsible parents “believe”.

    • hammersmith46 on said:

      Israel is an artifact of european colonialism. The Old Testament is just made up stories; there is no god anyway. If there was “anything to” the so-called Holocaust, it has been cancelled out by events in Palestine before and after it…what lessons could it could provide are lost when you consider what the Jews themselves have done to the Palestinians, not to mention American Jews’ abuse of their power, position and influence for the benefit of Israel and the detriment of the U.S. Israel has no right to exist; Israel should not exist. How can Americans, especially Zionist, Jews especially, look at themselves in the mirror.

  2. The UN Security Council, which gave birth to Israel in 1948 – never recognized city of Jerusalem as country’s capital.

    Speaking at the 2010 AIPAC annual conference, Netanyahu had claimed: “The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It’s our capital”.

    I bet Netanyahu believes that Muslims and Christians are as much of Jerusalem history as is the Zionist crowd.

    Israeli professor Shlomo Sand has admitted in his book ‘When and how Jewish people were invented?‘ that modern Jewish people were invented a little more than a century ago. Therefore, Jewish people could not be building Jerusalem 3000 years ago. However, they have been Judeazing Jerusalem city since 1948 when half the Arab Muslim-majority city of Jerusalem (Western) was awarded by the world’s western powers to the European Jews who were not welcomed in the Christian Heartland. The Jews then occupied the Eastern part of Jerusalem with the help of the same western powers in 1967.

    http://rehmat1.com/2010/04/01/who-built-jerusalem/

  3. Hillary on said:

    Sometime around the 11th century Eastern European Kazars had a choice to make. What to do in the seemingly endless war between Christianity and Islam.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashkenazi_Jews

    They discovered yet another monotheistic religion Judaism which sort of kept them neutral and as a kicker promised them that by converting to Judaism they would become specially chosen even by the Christian God.

    Obviously the best choice for them was to convert to Judaism which they did.

    A neutral now Jewish-Khazar Kingdom flourished but was destroyed in 1239 by the Mongol invasion of Batu Khan scattering these Kasar Ashkenazi Jews throughout Europe until at their peak in 1931, Ashkenazi Jews accounted for 92 percent of the world’s Jews

    Even today these Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews comprise 80 % of all Jews.

    Zionism came into being because these Ashkenazi “Kazar Jews” from Eastern Europe (converts to Judaism) who were not welcome anywhere seized on a mythical Biblical connection to Muslim Palestine and with the aid of alert Christian Politicians and Jewish finance Israel was created…

    Netanyahu is profoundly wrong, and East Jerusalem does not belong to “him”.

    http://www.juancole.com/2010/03/top-ten-reasons-east-jerusalem-does-not.html

  4. The goose steppers as usual are full of antisemitic b.s. Until Israel won the ’67 war, they couldn’t even get to their religious holy sites in Jerusalem that were used as public toilets by the Jordanians.

    Capital of Israel: Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?

    This week we marked the 45th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem. Israel designated Jerusalem as its capital in 1950, yet most countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv due to ongoing political debate with the Palestinians. This has given rise to an unprecedented situation whereby a sovereign state – Israel – is denied the diplomatic right to choose the location of its capital city.

    The U.S. Congress sought to reverse this travesty with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, passed by overwhelming bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate. The act states that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”

    Since then, a parade of U.S. presidents have promised to uphold this pledge. But since the congressional act allows the President to implement a waiver at six-month intervals, that’s exactly what has happened every six months since 1995.

    This has created a situation whereby politicians, the media, and the world at large routinely ignore the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Last month, the Washington Post printed this ditty:

    Obama’s more aggressive message this year reflects the increasing concern in Washington, Tel Aviv and other capitals about Iran’s enrichment program, which Israel believes will be used to produce a nuclear weapon.

    Similarly, the Wall Street Journal has referred to Israel’s capital as Tel Aviv, noting the “strains between Washington and Tel Aviv” (“U.S., Israel Spar in Public, But Defense Ties are Strong,” May 4, 2010), while CNN referred to “an explosion in the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv” (“Blast in Israeli Capital,” January 22, 2006).

    I’m not sure what can be done about all this, but one young man has taken the fight to court, and just last month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American citizens born in Jerusalem can list their birthplace as “Israel.”

    Even Republican candidate Ron Paul, long known as a critic of Israel, made this recent statement:

    “If Israel wants their capital to be Jerusalem, then the United States should honor that. How would we like it if some other nation said, ‘We decided to recognize New York City as your capital instead, so we will build our embassy there’?”

    In the meantime, with or without “international approval,” the city that King David designated as the capital of Israel and the Jewish people is 45 years unified, 3,000-plus years Jewish, and still going strong