Two weeks ago, at a speech to AIPAC that I attended, Barack Obama declared that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” The very next day, amid objection from Palestinians, Obama backtracked and said the status of Jerusalem would have to be determined by negotiations.
Now Reuters reports that a top Obama adviser is doing cartwheels to try to explain the about face:
“So he used a word to represent what he did not want to see again, and then realized afterwards that that word is a code word in the Middle East,” Kurtzer said.
In other words, Obama is such an expert on the Middle East that he has a vivid picture of what Jerusalem looked like when he was a five-year old living in Hawaii, and yet in a major speech about that very region he has such expertise on, he bungles the language on one of its most hotly-contested issues.
It gets better:
Much of the debate over Obama’s stance on Israel has focused on whether he is pro or anti, but perhaps a better question to ask is how much damage his careless use of language would do to the region. Over the course of the campaign, his statements have sent so many mixed signals, that people have drawn wildly different conclusions as to his true intentions. While this may allow him to skate through the campaign, the tendency would be absolutely disastrous should he carry out such policies as president, because ambiguous signals from the West have been a central problem all along. For instance, both sides claim that the British promised a state to their side earlier in this century. And one of the most disputed U.N. resolutions of all time, written after the Six Day War, calls for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict…” Arabs contend that this means that Israel must withdraw from all territories, but the clause was negotiated so as to specifically avoid the definite article “the” (as in “the territories conquered”), thus allowing Israel to maintain some border flexibility. The point is that this single clause has been the subject of fierce debate for over 40 years.
So to borrow a line from Obama himself, don’t tell me that words don’t matter!
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