Middle East Times
June 6, 2008 - 2:51pm

Democratic White House candidate Barack Obama on Thursday defended his remarks that Jerusalem should not be divided under any Israeli-Palestinian peace pact, saying a divided city would be "very difficult to execute."

A day after sparking outrage among Palestinians when he told a Jewish group that Jerusalem must remain the "undivided" capital of Israel, Obama told CNN that the issue is still up to the two sides.

"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."

However, he said, "My belief is that as a practical matter it would be very difficult to execute.

"And I think that it is smart for us to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in old Jerusalem."

But, he added, "Israel has a legitimate claim on that city."

On Wednesday Obama pledged to a meeting of the powerful Washington lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) his "unshakeable commitment to Israel's security" if he is elected president in November, while making the statement that Jerusalem should remain undivided.

Leading Palestinians including president Mahmud Abbas condemned the remarks.

"Jerusalem is one of the files under negotiation. The entire world knows perfectly well that we will never accept a state without (east) Jerusalem (as its capital). That should be clear," Abbas said.

Obama, the Democrats' presumed nominee to contest the November presidential election, insisted that he also said things in his speech "that probably some Israelis aren't happy with," such as pointing out that the Jewish state's settlement policy "not been helpful to peace as well."

"We have to have a contiguous and cohesive Palestinian state that functions effectively," he told CNN.

"There are a whole host of areas where I think there's going to have to be compromise on both sides," he added.

He meanwhile took a jab at President George W. Bush for not actively pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal until this year, the final year in Bush's presidency.

"The Middle East peace process is so important that we can't reserve it to the end of a presidency.

"We've got to start soon and I'm going to be absolutely committed to making that happen" if elected president, Obama said.


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