Democrats omit Jerusalem reference from party platform

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In their 2012 platform, Democrats left out a passage from their 2008 party document affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel – a charged issue that gave Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney an opening to push his argument that he would be a stronger supporter of the Jewish state than President Obama.

The topic of Jerusalem is a flashpoint in Israeli-Palestinian relations: while the city is the country’s legal capital, it is also where Palestinians want to locate the capital of an independent state. The two sides have agreed to resolve the longstanding dispute in negotiations.

Because of the controversy, the United States has maintained its embassy in Tel Aviv, despite a 1995 law passed by Congress that called for it to be moved to Jerusalem. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have blocked its implementation, calling the law an infringement on the executive branch’s authority to conduct foreign affairs.

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Four years ago, the Democratic platform declared that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

This year, the official party document -- released late Monday night -- is silent on the matter of Jerusalem. The platform declares that Obama and the Democratic Party “maintain an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.”

“It is precisely because of this commitment that President Obama and the Democratic Party seek peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” the document adds. “A just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples, would contribute to regional stability and help sustain Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.”

On Tuesday. Romney pounced on the change in the platform’s language.

“It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” he said in a statement. “Four years of President Obama’s repeated attempts to create distance between the United States and our cherished ally have led the Democratic Party to remove from their platform an unequivocal acknowledgment of a simple reality. As president, I will restore our relationship with Israel and stand shoulder to shoulder with our close ally.”

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Democratic officials rejected the notion that the change in the platform language reflected any weakening in U.S. support for Israel, noting that the Obama administration has the same policy toward Jerusalem as his predecessors.

“As the White House said several months ago, the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians – which we also said in the 2008 platform,” Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Melanie Roussell said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the parties to resolve this issue as part of a two-state solution that secures the future of Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people.”

“This is just another attempt by the Romney campaign to turn our support for Israel -- which has always been bipartisan -- into a partisan wedge issue by playing politics,” she added. “This is both cynical and counter-productive to Israel’s security.”

Obama sought to make his own hay after Romney and his running mate, Paul D. Ryan, failed to mention the more than 70,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan during their acceptance speeches at the GOP convention last week in Tampa.