So maybe Obama was not unadvised or guilty of “misspeaking” when he told AIPAC that he stands for an “undivided” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Here’s Bernard Avishai’s interpretation of the comments:
But even the most apparently contentious thing he said—contentious, at least, outside the room—was carefully worded. Obama said that in any two-state solution Israel would have an “undivided” Jerusalem as its capital. He did not—note well—say a “united” Jerusalem, which would have pushed him from the Democratic Party to the Likud.
Indeed, let’s be clear about this, since some (including Mahmud Abbas, alas) have interpreted his phrase to mean exclusive Israeli sovereignty in the city. Again, when Israeli rightists say that Jerusalem should be exclusively theirs they say the city should be Israel’s capital and united. “Undivided” is the Labor Party euphemism for a city whose Arab and Jewish quarters are not separated by a wall, as before 1967 (and—though this is not usually mentioned in this context—the wall Israel has more recently thrown up).
“Undivided” does not prejudice the question of who is awarded formal sovereignty where. The Geneva Initiative, for example, proposes an undivided Jerusalem with international forces helping to keep the place an administrative whole.
My colleague Ron Kiener, just back from Israel, says that Avishai’s got it just right, and that’s good enough for me.
The questions then become: Why did Mahmoud Abbas express great distress at Obama’s remark, and why rightwingers at AIPAC express great distress at the subsequent clarification of Oama’s remark? Maybe they both thought the rookie didn’t really know what he was saying, and that they could they could roll him in their direction. In retrospect, it probably would have been better for Obama to say exactly what he meant the first time around, instead of throwing in a one-sentence coded-language applause line. On the other hand, if anybody could have been expected to understand the code, the good folks of AIPAC should have.