Obama Backs Away From Comment on Divided Jerusalem

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 6, 2008; 9:30 AM

Facing criticism from Palestinians, Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged yesterday that the status of Jerusalem will need to be negotiated in future peace talks, amending a statement earlier in the week that the city "must remain undivided."

Obama's statement, made during a speech Wednesday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, drew a swift rebuke from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"This statement is totally rejected," Abbas told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "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 of a Palestinian state."

The Bush administration's official position is that the status of Jerusalem must be decided by the parties. Before he left office, President Bill Clinton proposed a formula under which "Jerusalem should be an open and undivided city," including locating the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

Obama quickly backtracked yesterday in an interview with CNN.

"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," Obama said when asked whether Palestinians had no future claim to the city.

Obama said "as a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute" a division of the city. "And I think that it is smart for us to -- to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in Old Jerusalem but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city."

But Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) later said on behalf of the Obama campaign that Obama's comment to CNN should not be seen as backtracking or even an amendment. He said Obama was clarifying that he has long believed it is up to the parties involved to determine the status of Jerusalem.

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