I see in Phil Giraldi’s post and elsewhere that Romney is trying to make hay about what he calls Obama’s “shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.” Romney is a foreign policy neophyte, and may not realize that America has never formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. I visited the US embassy recently, in cool Tel Aviv; you could see surfers on the nearby beach.

So this “shameful refusal” also pertains to former presidents Bush (both of them), Clinton, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, etc. Perhaps a journalist could ask Mitt whether he believes they were all “shameful.”

Don’t have time for a long historical expose, but the issue has been around a long time. I came across this in the archives recently, a 1967 note from the (proto-neocon) Walt Rostow to LBJ, giving some background in the matter, and referring to Israel’s Jerusalem maneuvers as “salami tactics”:

413. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, April 29, 1967.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. VI. Confidential. A handwritten note on the memorandum indicates that it was received at 3:55 p.m.

SUBJECT
Our Attendance at Israeli Independence Day Parade/2/

/2/Israel’s annual Independence Day parade was to be held in Jerusalem on May 15.

We are in the midst of our annual hassle over whether Ambassador Barbour should go to Israel’s parade in Jerusalem. He would go if both the French and British Ambassadors were going. But London has decided at Cabinet level that its Ambassador should not go this year, and Paris has agreed.

The issue is where we draw the line in lending our presence to ceremonies which further recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. UN resolutions of 1949-50 recommended that Jerusalem be placed under international administration. We have gone along with this position. Although we do business with Israeli government offices in Jerusalem, we have refused legally to recognize it as Israel’s capital and have kept our embassy in Tel Aviv. While the conditions that led to our initial position have changed, we don’t believe we should change that position unless in the context of some Arab-Israeli settlement. Doing so otherwise would kick off a tremendous Arab reaction.

State really doesn’t feel our presence makes that much legal difference because we’ve been to other such functions in Jerusalem. But it does fear that the Israelis and Arabs would read great significance if we broke with the British and French on the issue. We could probably get Eshkol to promise not to exploit our presence, but we can’t stave off some Arab reaction. The Jordanian Foreign Minister has already formally asked us not to attend. He feels that Jordan is especially vulnerable to Arab criticism because of Jordan’s close relationship with us.

The issue is not the parade itself but the fact that the Israeli government uses this kind of thing to nibble away at the Western position. The British have decided–at the Cabinet level after two reviews and considerable Jewish pressure–that they must draw the line somewhere and that this is the place. In 1965, they attended a tattoo in Jerusalem after the Israelis assured them they’d make nothing of it and then six weeks later Eshkol cited British and American presence as a significant step toward Western recognition of Israel’s status in Jerusalem. The British were burned up, and there’s a good bit of their annoyance in this year’s decision.

The Israelis are telling us informally that our refusal to attend will provoke a crisis in our relations. That’s nonsense, and we can probably talk them out of that line. But unfortunately they can read our absence as the kind of aloofness that doesn’t help you here at home.

Personally, I can’t get excited about whether we go to the parade or not, and I think the British may be drawing the line at the wrong place. But they do make one important point. There’s no question that every Israeli move like this is calculated “salami tactics.” Unhappily, there is no such thing with this tough-minded, always-negotiating government–much as I love the Israelis as people–as just making a nice gesture without having them attach significance to it.

The main issue in this as in the aid package is whether we’re now ready to throw open the gates to Israel or whether we’re still willing to draw the line somewhere to preserve some balance between our Arab and Israeli policies. They think they’ve made a breakthrough with you on the tank and planes sales, and they’re trying to exploit it to the hilt.

I hate to see something like this cause you trouble, and I think the British have made a wrong decision. But Secretary Katzenbach has decided we ought to go along with them and the French, and if there were no domestic concern, I wouldn’t even bother you with this. He has not asked our review, but I asked to put this before you. You can either let his decision stand, or I can ask him to take a second look if you are concerned.

Walt

Let the decision stand
Ask Secretary Katzenbach to review/3/

UPDATE: This is funny. As noted earlier, the Democratic platform didn’t say anything about Jerusalem being Israel’s eternal capital. Romney complained. So did Alan Dershowitz, and several others. The Dems rushed to make amends. Though, as this video shows, many weren’t too happy about it. Mondoweiss has write-up of the whole controversy.