Jerusalem As Capital of Israel Reveals Rift

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While the Democratic Party’s decision to omit “God” from its platform generated much chatter, it was the decision to change language over Jerusalem as the capital of Israel that elicited many statements of outrage. Joseph Klein, of FrontPage Magazine, claimed that the omission “betrays Israel.” Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said the exclusion was “one more example of Israel being thrown under the bus.”

On Wednesday, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took a voice vote to re-insert the Jerusalem language into the platform. After three votes, none of which clearly registered the two-thirds necessary, a hesitant Villaraigosa declared the motion passed.

The unrest over the Jerusalem language may signal a shift in the way Americans think about their ally. Scott McConnell, former editorial page director of the New York Post, noticed that the language over Jerusalem reveals a rift in America over Israel:

“There is a widespread consensus . . . in favor of Israel’s security. But the consensus is not that one-sided, there is growing recognition that Palestinians too have a legitimate claim for rights in the lands and cities in which they and their ancestors dwell. If you look at the poll data, Americans favor Israel over Palestine by margins like 3-1 (but not 20-1). Perhaps forty percent of Americans believe U.S. policy should favor Israel no matter what the circumstance. But an equal or greater number (depending on the poll) believe the United States should attempt to be even-handed, not favor either side. This division in American public opinion is not reflected in our one-sided congressional votes. But it made itself heard on the floor of the Democratic convention, I believe for the first time.”

With nearly half favoring and half opposing re-inserting language about an undivided Jerusalem, the Democrats gave the appearance that their delegates have little input in the formation of their platform.

The matter is not whether America recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is whether there will be any daylight between America and Israel. The Republicans, whose platform heading reads, “Our Unequivocal Support of Israel,” have made clear that there shall be no separation between Israel and the United States. The Democrats attempted to put some daylight in between, but after rounds of denunciations in the media, the party returned to its previous position that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel.

However, the Jerusalem matter doesn’t end with the Democratic Party platform.

America’s primary role in its relationship with Israel is its position as the peace broker between Israel and the Palestinians. With Iran as one of the main issues facing the American president in 2013, the diminished deference to Israel, if it is ever implemented, may mean curbing whether the United States goes to war against the Islamic Republic.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently claimed that Israel has a clear and meaningful national interest in stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If there is a belief that no two countries have identical national interests, then potential Iranian nuclear weapons is not necessarily the casus belli for America as it may be for Israel. If Israel’s interests are determined to be one-and-the-same as American interests, sanctions and eventual intervention in Iran might remain on the table as policy prescriptions.

The dispute over the Democrats’ decision to re-insert rhetorical solidarity for an undivided Jerusalem represents an identifiable change. While the party succumbed to public pressure to placate, the idea that Israeli and American interests are intertwined may be coming to an end and it may have policy implications beyond the placement of the Israeli capital.