What Bill Clinton Could Say About Jerusalem

September 6, 2012

By Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street President

What an astounding scene here in Charlotte yesterday as the Democratic Party scrambled to deal with its platform and Jerusalem.

Put aside what you personally believe about Jerusalem – and, make no mistake, J Street believes that Israel’s capital is in Jerusalem and that its status and borders should be established as part of a final status agreement with the Palestinians.

If a single incident could capture what’s wrong with how policy towards Israel and the Middle East plays out in American politics – this was it.

In brief, when the original Democratic platform did not refer to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Democrats pushed through an amendment to the platform, in an unorthodox and frankly embarrassing procedure, reinstating old language that did.

When former President Bill Clinton took on the mantle of “fact-checker-in-chief” later that night, it inspired me to ponder what it would look like for the former President to turn his truth-telling attention to Israel.

So here are the remarks I’d suggest he give:

I talked a little earlier about the difference between those who cooperate to solve problems and those who just want to score political points.

Turns out that applies as much to foreign policy as to domestic economics.

Take a look at Israel. I can tell you there isn’t a President – Republican or Democrat – who hasn’t been a friend of Israel.

The United States has stood by Israel through thick and thin across a dozen administrations, under Presidents of both parties, in a relationship grounded in the shared interests and values of the two countries.

But friendship to Israel has to go beyond supporting steadfast and unwavering security and military assistance. And Presidents of both parties have recognized this too.

It means helping Israelis and Palestinians find peace and security through a two-state solution to the conflict between them.

This conflict has caused too many wars, cost too many lives and always threatens to trigger broader violence.

That’s why I worked so hard with my good friend Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to settle this conflict.

That’s why both Presidents Bush devoted time and energy to the cause. It’s why President Obama vowed to try to achieve peace from his first day in office – and try he did.

So why all the shenanigans over the past couple of weeks around Israel, and Jerusalem in particular?

We all know that Jerusalem has been at the center of religious and political conflicts for millennia.

We also know that Jews, Christians and Muslims all have profound historic and religious connections to the city.

If there is ever to be peace, those connections will all have to be recognized and respected.

The Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem will be the capital of the state of Israel, and the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem will be the capital of the state of Palestine.

We all know that – Democrats and Republicans, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Now, if your only interest is scoring a few points in domestic American politics – sure, you can try to turn Jerusalem into a political football at election time.

But when you do that, you make it that much harder for the US to help the parties reach a compromise through a negotiated two-state solution to their conflict.

Of course, Jerusalem will be the capital of the state of Israel – and the world will recognize it as such once a peace deal has been struck.

But let’s not pretend that that’s going to happen without Palestinians too having a capital in their neighborhoods of Jerusalem – or without free and unfettered access for all to some of the most holy sites of all religions.

So here’s the truth: It’s time for everyone to stop pouring fuel on the fires of the Middle East while trying to score political points. And it’s time to start putting pursuit of American interests and the interests of Israel and the people of the region ahead of narrow partisan gain.