US Senator Barack Obama (D)
US Senator Barack Obama (D)Israel News Photo: (file)

The Coalition for a United Jerusalem held a news conference in the capital Tuesday night to demand that US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama express unequivocal support for the unification of Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty.

The Coalition, which represents a group of Jewish organizations including the American Israeli Action Coalition, the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel, Emunah Women, the Rabbinical Council of America in Israel, the Worldwide Young Israel Movement and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), called on Obama to reaffirm his positive views for the future of Jerusalem.

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Last Month: Supports Jerusalem, then Backtracks

The presumptive Democratic nominee declared at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. last month that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the State of Israel. Within 24 hours of that speech, however, Obama found himself swiftly backpedaling in the face of Arab fury over his remarks. He clarified his stand by saying it was up to Israel and the PA to determine to status of the capital.

Last week, he went even further, saying that what he meant by "undivided" was that barbed wire fences should not divide the city as they did during the Jordanian occupation of eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria between 1949 and 1967.

"We hope that the Democratic Senator's stay in Israel will provide him with opportunities for learning as he comes to appreciate the full import of the Jewish struggle to secure our rights and ensure our national safety in a region constantly awash in violence," commented Jeff Daube, director of the ZOA's Israel office.

Nearly 100,000 American voters reside in Israel, and Rabbi Aaron Tirschwell, director of Israel Operations at the Worldwide Young Israel Movement, said that "many here as well as their families and friends in America view the issue of a unified Jerusalem as a litmus test for a candidate's pro-Israel bona fides."

In its statement to the media, the Coalition also called on Obama to:

* Disavow subsequent retractions which qualified his original calls for an undivided Jerusalem to mean only that it would not be separated by barbed wire as in 1948-67;

* Declare that security and access to all holy places can be guaranteed only by Israeli sovereignty, as demonstrated during the past 41 years;

* Acknowledge that Israeli withdrawals from Southern Lebanon and Gaza in the past have led to destabilization and increased violence and terror, and that these withdrawals presage a similar deterioration likely to occur in eastern Jerusalem if Israel were to withdraw and turn the area over to Fatah, which would likely be usurped by Hamas;

* Take immediate steps to introduce balance and a pro-Israel perspective by appointing a number of foreign policy advisors more likely to consider an undivided Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.

Obama Visits Sderot: 'A Friend of Israel'

Visiting the rocket-battered western Negev city of Sderot with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak Wednesday afternoon, Obama said that "Israel should not talk to Hamas as long as it poses a threat to its citizens."

Obama said that 'Israel should not talk to Hamas as long as it poses a threat to its citizens.'

He added, "If someone was to fire at my house, where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything within my power to stop him and I expect Israel to do the same." Sen. Obama also declared that peace "will not be achieved by endangering Israel's security… I was among the first to declare that Israel has every right to defend itself. No country in the world would agree to a situation in which missiles continuously land in its territory."

The Democratic Senator spoke to reporters at the city police station, next to neatly-stacked piles of empty Kassam rocket casings, adding that he would not pressure Israel into any peace deal that would compromise her security.

Obama assured both Israelis and American Jews that "as an American and as a friend of Israel that [we] stand with the people of Sderot and all of the people of Israel."