On Wednesday, President Obama hailed his administration's historic opening to Cuba as "another demonstration that we do not have to be imprisoned by the past." Formal ties have been reestablished after more than a half-century-long deep freeze.
Many of his critics, though, are angry. A slew of Republican presidential candidates panned the move as premature and playing into the hands of the authoritarian Castro regime. The most conspicuous ire was exhibited by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
But the argument he deployed communicated something particular about his own brand of politics.
Cruz said the administration's decision to "have an embassy in Havana before one in Jerusalem" was "a slap in the face" of Israel.
As WorldViews explained earlier, Jerusalem remains a disputed territory in the eyes of the international community, including the United States, which has its embassy in Israel in the city of Tel Aviv. This has been the consistent policy of every White House since President Harry S. Truman signaled the U.S. recognition of Israel as an independent state.
The issue of sovereignty over this ancient city is a very delicate matter. Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal capital and has controlled the city in its entirety since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which saw Israel also seize the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The United States, on the other hand, let alone other countries less well disposed to Israel, does not recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
The United States, the main proponent of a two-state solution for the Israelis and Palestinians, views East Jerusalem as making up a future Palestinian capital. The facts on the ground, as WorldViews has reported at length, suggest that a separate, viable Palestinian state is a very distant prospect.
That policy of not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital was challenged recently in the Supreme Court by U.S. citizens born in the city who were petitioning for the right to list their place of birth as Israel. Earlier this month, as my colleague Robert Barnes reported, "a majority of the court came down decisively on the side of the executive branch when the question is the recognition of foreign countries and their territorial boundaries."
That hardly satisfies Cruz, who is an ardent supporter of Israel and has conducted serious agitprop for the Jewish state in the past. He proposed legislation earlier this year to have the U.S. Embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It had no chance of passing, but it was an indication of how some American conservatives will want to challenge Washington's long-held position in the years to come.