Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Jerusalem omission's silly significance

By Aaron David Miller, Special to CNN
September 6, 2012 -- Updated 0113 GMT (0913 HKT)
 Aaron David Miller says the Jerusalem issue defies logic and rationality when it comes to our presidential elections.
Aaron David Miller says the Jerusalem issue defies logic and rationality when it comes to our presidential elections.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aaron Miller: For some reason, the Democratic platform omitted Jerusalem, then included it
  • The omission gave Romney an opening for questioning Obama's commitment ot Israel, he says
  • But Jerusalem is hardly relevant now, he says, with peace talks dead and Iran the main issue
  • Miller: Platforms don't matter, and politicians know Jerusalem's fate is not in their hands

Editor's note: Aaron David Miller is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and served as a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Can America Have Another Great President?" Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- The flip-flop over the non-mention, and now inclusion, in the Democratic platform of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel reflects just how silly and sensitive matters can become in an election year.

The Obama folks were clearly tone deaf on this one, giving the Republicans a gratuitous advantage to question (yet again) the president's commitment to Israel. After the discord over its omission, the president himself ordered that Jerusalem be included in the platform. But he has already reaped the worst of both worlds: Having too cleverly tried to steer clear of traditional election year pressures on Jerusalem, the party is now seen to be capitulating to them.

First, let's get something straight. The Jerusalem issue defies logic and rationality when it comes to our presidential elections. Presidential candidates say all kinds of things in order to win elections, including repeated commitments to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And then, once in office, they turn around and seek ways to avoid doing it.

Aaron David Miller
Aaron David Miller

Despite all of the campaign rhetoric, no administration has changed the bottom line U.S. position on the embassy, or for that matter the status of Jerusalem, since 1967. Its fate is to be determined in negotiations.

And here's a news flash for you. Should Mitt Romney become president and serious negotiations start between the Israelis and Palestinians, his position would conform to that of his predecessors, and might even go further to allow for Palestinian sovereignty in east Jerusalem.

Democrats update platform with reference to Jerusalem

DNC kicks off with big speeches
Julian Castro compared to young Obama

Second, what's so curious about the flap is that the Jerusalem issue is less relevant today than ever. There are no prospects for reviving serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Taking positions on Jerusalem is a thought experiment now. And most smart politicians understand this.

Neither the Israeli prime minister nor the president of the Palestinian Authority are prepared to pay the price for a deal, let alone reach common ground, on Jerusalem, the peace process' most explosive issue. To add to that, the region is in turmoil. Iran's nuclear program is likely to be the big issue in 2013, not resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Jerusalem is likely to remain dormant for some time.

Perhaps that's partly why this year's GOP platform doesn't spell out much in detail on Jerusalem. It says only that "We envision two democratic states -- Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine." That differs from the platform in 2008, when the GOP actively called for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

That year the Democrats refrained from mentioning moving the embassy, but did assert that Jerusalem "is and will remain the capital of Israel." In fact, looking at past Democratic platforms, the last time the "moving the embassy" language appeared was in 1984.

Still, it hardly mattered. Under the past three Republican presidents -- Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 -- nothing was done about it. And it hardly matters on the substantive side, either.

What will determine the future of Jerusalem depends almost entirely on the Israelis and the Palestinians and perhaps, if there's ever a peace process, the Arab states that have equities there too. Not to mention the views of the Muslim and Christian world, assuming they'd ever agree on anything regarding their respective holy sites.

But rest assured, whatever is contained in any American political party's platform won't be very significant. Indeed, if I were an Israeli or Palestinian, I wouldn't count on any American statement on this or any other issue made during a political campaign.

Clearly, the Jerusalem issue continues to resonate politically in the United States, particularly during campaign season. Does the omission of any reference to Jerusalem really say anything at all about Barack Obama and his party's commitment to Israel or a sea change on the Jerusalem issue?

It is, indeed, intriguing that the 2008 Democratic Party platform stated that Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel and the 2004 and 2000 platforms contained very similar language, but this year the Democrats had, at first, dared to drop the reference.

Mitt Romney was quick to blast the Democrats for the omission, claiming that the entire party "has embraced President Obama's shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel's capital." The initial omission, combined with White House press spokesman Jay Carney's fumbling the question about Israel's capital several months ago, might have strengthened many people's belief that Obama is changing American policy.

But since American policy, pursued under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has always been that the city's final status will be determined in negotiations, you have to wonder what precisely those critics mean. The president has taken positions on borders and security, but not on Jerusalem, although it's hard to believe that his view will not be close to those of Bill Clinton, who thinks that east Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian state with special arrangements for certain neighborhoods and Jewish holy sites.

More likely, the platform's drafters wanted to steer clear of Jerusalem entirely and hoped nobody would notice. But of course they did.

What planet were the drafters who omitted Jerusalem living on? It's silly season, the campaign is on, the Republicans see a wedge on Israel, and it's Jerusalem. Need I say more?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Aaron David Miller.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT