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Arab Anger Forces Obama to Backtrack on Jerusalem

US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama sharply pulled back support for Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital in the face of Arab anger.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 6/6/2008, 10:17 AM

Within 24 hours of expressing his firm support for a united Jerusalem in a speech to a pro-Israel lobby organization, US Senator Barack Obama found himself forced to backtrack in the face of Arab anger on Thursday.

Obama had managed to enrage Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) with his first foreign policy speech since garnering enough delegates to win the nomination at the Democratic convention in Denver this summer.

"Let me be clear," said Obama from the podium at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington on Wednesday, "Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive and that allows them to prosper. But any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish State, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided," he declared.

Responding to Obama's remarks, a livid Abbas told reporters, "This statement is totally rejected. The whole world knows that holy Jerusalem was occupied in 1967 and we will not accept a Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital." 

By Thursday Obama was quickly backpedaling, telling reporters "Well, obviously it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations… As a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute [a policy of the capital remaining undivided.]"

Obama went on to expressed the view that there must be a way in which "everyone has access to the extraordinary religious sites in Old Jerusalem, but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city."

Israel has provided Christians and Muslims with free and complete access control of holy sites in Jerusalem since the Holy City was restored to the Jewish State in the 1967 Six-Day War.  During the time the city was occupied by Jordan, from 1948 to 1967, Christians and Jews were prohibited from holy sites.