Romney on a “United Jerusalem”, and why you’re a bit thick for freaking out about it

Yes, Romney has made statements about keeping Israel the united Capital of Jerusalem. Yes, the comments are unacceptable. And the internet has been experiencing a proverbial freak-out over them, with lots of all-caps action of the “HOW CAN HE SAY THIS?” variety. But, seriously, calm the [expletive] down; these comments are in line with what every American president has claimed openly since he 1980s. Don’t believe me?

Reagan, 1981

Carter, 1987

Bush Sr. 1990

Clinton, 1994

Bush Jr. 2000

Obama, 2008

While all those presidents have given vocal support for a “united Jerusalem”, none of them has moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, and none have recognized “Israel” as the country in which Jerusalem lies on US passports (Americans born in Jerusalem simply do not have a country of birth listed on their passports), despite pressure from the Senate and Congress to do so. It is unlikely Romney will change the US administration’s position on Jerusalem because it is what Israel needs – America’s maintaining that Jerusalem is a final-status issue makes negotiations between the Palestinian leadership and Israel possible even when both sides have recognized that the Palestinians are not strong enough to negotiate for anymore than a token portion of Jerusalem. America’s current position on Jerusalem will probably remain the same until the final political defeat of the Palestinians in a final status agreement that relegates them to second class status on part of their homeland and exclusion from the rest. Or, if the Oslo process fully collapses and the PLO is expelled from Palestine, and Palestinians return to a revolutionary phase of their struggle, in this case as well America will likely change its position on Jerusalem as part of recognizing Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

What’s more, when you stand against a “United Jerusalem”, who exactly are you standing with? The US public is to the right of the administration on this – they want a United Jerusalem. The Blue-Card Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem? But only 30% of them prefer to be Palestinian than to be Israeli. The Palestinian leadership which needs East Jerusalem to make its statehood? But the existing leadership already offered to allow Israel to annex virtually every Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, save a few which are far outside the Jerusalem Municiple Boundary, marking the boundary of Jerusalem annexed by Israel back in the 60s. And remember, Abbas is facing pressure from the right, from those who want negotiations while settlement building goes on. And those to his left – how many of them are today calling for a return to a hardline position of no or little compromise on the ’67 line as it runs through Jerusalem? I don’t know of any, I’m under the impression that those who reject the Abbas leadership of Fatah mostly want a return to the pre-1988 position, and claim all the land as Palestine. They want a United Jerusalem as well – a Palestinian United Jerusalem.

The debate over Jerusalem at this point has become a complex mix of international law, Oslo negotiations, and disillusionment on both sides with any possibility of territorial compromise which would meet anyone’s national aspirations. It has become the terrain of intellectuals arguing over details, rather than the expression of the general will of any people.

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