The following exchange took place last week at a White House press briefing by Jay Carney:
Q Jay, may I?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Connie.
Q What city does this administration consider to be the capital of Israel — Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?*
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that question in a while. Our position has not changed, Connie.
Q What is the position? What’s the capital?
MR. CARNEY: You know our position.
Q I don’t.
Q No, no, she doesnâ€™t know. She doesnâ€™t know. That’s why she asked.
MR. CARNEY: She does know —
Q I don’t.
Q She does not know. She just said she doesnâ€™t know. I don’t know.
The dialogue reveals, at least, tacit collusion between the press and the Republican messaging machine, because the “Jerusalem versus Tel Aviv” thing has become a high point of Mitt’s visit to Israel. If the press briefing question wasn’t requested by the Romney campaign or some SuperPac working for Romney I’ll eat my mousepad.
For those of us who don’t give a bleep where they put the capital of Israel, here’s an article explaining the perspective of the Israeli right wing — that Israel considers Jerusalem to be the capital even if the rest of the world doesn’t. Mittens, in Israel, thumped his chest and said Jerusalem is the capital, vowing to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Juan Cole, in
Romney on Jerusalem: A World of Hurt for America explains why this should make us very afraid of a Romney Administration:
Romney told CNNâ€™s Wolf Blitzer that Israel, like other countries, â€œhas the capacityâ€ to choose its capital, and that he would, in consultation with Israeli authorities, move the US embassy there if he became president. He didnâ€™t use the word â€œright to choose its capital,â€ because, presumably, he knows that the status of Jerusalem is a matter for diplomatic final status negotiations with the Palestinians. That is the reason that the countries of the world keep their embassies in Tel Aviv. Putting an embassy in Jerusalem forecloses the issue of the negotiations. The right wing Israeli position is that they own all of Jerusalem, since they conquered it in 1967. The rest of the world doesnâ€™t agree that after WW II and the UN Charter, it is permitted to go around annexing other peopleâ€™s territory by war.
Romneyâ€™s position will put him at odds with NATO allies, including most of Europe and Turkey. It will cause immense frictions with Egyptâ€™s new president, Muhammad Morsi, and with the Arab world generally. It could also provoke violence. Al-Qaeda gave as one reason for launching the 2001 attacks on the US, American support for the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem.
Not that Romney cares about US allies in the Middle East other than Israelâ€“ most of whom he has now insulted and alienated. The Middle East is undergoing tremendous change and the Arab people are mobilizing. Country-club Mitt is the worst possible person to deal with this transformation, and he proved it in Israel.
And, it is hard to see why the world should line up to sanction Iran as Romney insists, based on the UNSC resolutions, if Romney wants to completely disregard the UN Security Councilâ€™s repeated castigation of the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem.
So Mittens is threatening to flush decades of diplomacy down the toilet to get the Jewish and evangelical vote. Do read Juan Cole’s entire post; it explains a lot.
Paul Werdel of Talking Points Memo anticipated what Mittens would do in a post published last week.
The Romney campaign had at time of writing on Friday sent out two separate e-mail press releases chiding the Obama administration for its â€œrefusal to say whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.â€
One quoted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and another, former Minnesota Senator and Romney surrogate Norm Coleman.
Now itâ€™s worth noting this was long the easy rhetoric of some of the less serious contenders throughout the GOP primary. But coming from Romney, the partyâ€™s nominee-to-be, it would signal something far more significant.
I suppose itâ€™s possible the Romney campaign is so unaware of the realities of the Middle East peace process, however moribund it may be, that theyâ€™re unconcerned with just how inflammatory an American presidentâ€™s expression of support for an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would be to the Arab world. But even with the stumbles Mitt Romney has made this week on the international stage, that seems unlikely.
So, accepting that Romney is aware of the significance, it seems likely heâ€™s prepared to signal a very real, very controversial departure from decades of U.S. peacemaking policy, and put the weight of his potential presidency behind a declaration that he believes Jerusalem is Israelâ€™s capital. That would be a very big deal.
Update: July 28, 10:14 AM
Reader MR rightly points out that then-candidate Obama in a 2008 speech to AIPAC said that an undivided Jerusalem was and should remain the capital of Israel. Thatâ€™s true. But after Palestinian leaders reacted with dismay, his campaign quickly walked things back.
Reading Romney’s speech today, he is undermining decades of US policy in the Middle East, and obviously trying to provoke the Arab world. (See previous post.) His goal is to provide riots across Arab countries, resulting in video on American TV of angry Arabs burning US flags.
The idea is to scare people here into supporting him, and blaming Obama.
The end result could well be war in the Middle East.
I’m betting the riots wouldn’t start until the day after the November elections, if Mittens is elected, followed by escalating and possibly global war. But you can see the point of the question asked of Jay Carney — if he answers “Tel Aviv” he pisses off some people, and if he answers “Jerusalem” he pisses off a lot more people and possibly brings on a diplomatic crisis. And surely Connie Lawn knew that, or she has no business being in the White House press corps.