WASHINGTON — In a speech that drew standing ovations at the annual policy conference of the largest pro-Israel lobby in America, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president says he supports Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital.
"Let me be clear," Senator Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "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."
This formulation drew cheers from even the more hawkish corners of the American Jewish community. The director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Nathan Diament, said in a statement: "We applaud Senator Obama's clear statement that, should he be elected President, he will support the holy city of Jerusalem remaining the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel and the Jewish people."
The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, said, "Clearly, if you knew nothing about Barack Obama, you would come away from this speech thinking he is clearly a friend of Israel." But Mr. Klein added that he could not reconcile Wednesday's speech with the views of some of Mr. Obama's advisers and the fact that he attended the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago while the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was the pastor.
Even Senator Clinton, whose surrogates have questioned Mr. Obama's support for Israel, assured the Aipac faithful that her opponent for the Democratic nomination would be a "strong friend of Israel."
The position that Jerusalem remain "undivided" is in some ways at odds with the current round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations supported by the Bush administration, as well as the formulation floated at the end of the Clinton presidency. The Clinton administration's framework documents a divided East Jerusalem between a Palestinian capital, Quds, and the capital of the Jewish state based on the demographics of the neighborhoods in the Old City. On the day Mr. Obama declared his support for an undivided Jerusalem, President Bush signed another waiver putting off for another six months the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv that was required in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. Both President Clinton and President Bush pledged on the campaign trail to move the embassy, yet neither president ever did, a reminder that campaign promises and administration policy can sometimes differ on Israel. At Mr. Klein's behest, Aipac this week passed a resolution to fight against American waivers delaying the embassy move.
Not all observers yesterday were happy with Mr. Obama's speech. A spokesman for Hamas condemned it. "We consider the statements of Obama to be further evidence of the hostility of the American administration to Arabs and Muslims," said the Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhr, according to wire services. The fledgling independent campaign of Ralph Nader, the consumer rights activist many Democrats blame for Vice President Gore's 2000 presidential loss, also issued a statement attacking Mr. Obama's speech. The statement said Mr. Obama's position on an undivided Jerusalem as Israel's capital "undermines the widespread international consensus two-state solution peace plan."
Mr. Obama has said he would oppose diplomatic contact with Hamas as long as the group supports terrorism and refuses to recognize Israel or prior peace agreements. Mr. Obama has also said, though, that he would be open to pursuing diplomacy with the chief foreign sponsor of Hamas, Iran. But at Aipac, the winner of the Democratic presidential primary also provided some caveats to that position.
"There will be careful preparation. We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress," Mr. Obama said. "Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. But as president of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing — if, and only if, it can advance the interests of the United States."
He added: "We will pursue this diplomacy with no illusions about the Iranian regime. Instead, we will present a clear choice. If you abandon your dangerous nuclear program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, there will be meaningful incentives — including the lifting of sanctions, and political and economic integration with the international community. If you refuse, we will ratchet up the pressure."
That formulation in some ways is a modification of Mr. Obama's earlier framing of his support for diplomacy with Iran. While during the primary the senator's campaign has emphasized the candidate's willingness to talk, the senator has also sponsored tougher sanctions.