By Elise Labott CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter
Much is being made of the Democrats' decision to remove a reference to Jerusalem being Israel's capital from the party's political platform, and President Barack Obama's decision to put it back in.
The partisan politics over this issue, however, is missing the point.
Everyone knows when it comes to the issue of Israel, presidential candidates will say almost anything to get elected. But few of their promises are ever delivered on.
Case in point: In 2008, then-candidate Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest and most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States, that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."
Yet today, his administration pursues a policy inconsistent with that approach. As recently as March, the State Department reaffirmed that the final status of Jerusalem is to be negotiated by the Israelis and Palestinians themselves as part of a comprehensive peace deal. In July the White House issued a statement to the same effect.
And it's not just the Obama administration instituting the policy. This is a policy that's basically been in effect since 1967.
The same goes with the pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Nearly every candidate, including then-Sen. Obama and now Mitt Romney, travels to Israel and makes a half-hearted promise to move the embassy to what they call Israel's rightful capital. And every commander-in-chief leaves office without having fulfilled that commitment.
In a July interview, CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Romney about his take on the issue as he visited Israel. Romney said, "A nation has the capacity to choose its own capital city, and Jerusalem is Israel's capital."
"I think it's long been the policy to ultimately have our embassy in the nation's capital of Jerusalem," Romney said, adding that the timing of such a move would be made in consultation with Israel's government.
But if Romney were elected and inherited the now-defunct "peace process," he too would almost certainly refrain from taking a stand on either Jerusalem or the embassy.
U.S. policy has long been deliberately vague on the status of Jerusalem. A federal law passed in 1995 designates Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and stipulates the American embassy should move to the city from Tel Aviv. The past three presidents, however, have signed waivers suspending the law, citing security and diplomatic concerns.
Why? Because the United States has been viewed as an "honest broker" that can mediate peace talks and persuade the parties to make the tough concessions needed to reach a deal. Washington has always needed to strike the balance between maintaining a commitment to Israel's security and reaffirming its role as one of the strongest U.S. allies with this need to remain impartial on the thorniest issues of the conflict, the fate of Jerusalem perhaps being the thorniest.
The United States usually is accused of pandering to Israel at some point in every presidential campaign. And everyone knows campaign rhetoric is just that. But when a presidential candidate plays with such a sensitive issue as a campaign pledge, it chips away ever so slightly at that "honest broker" moniker - especially when an incumbent president is the player.
It took the Arab American Institute all of 5 minutes after the Jerusalem reference was put back into the platform to issue a statement of disappointment, warning that the amendment "flies in the face of decades of policy and the positions of President Obama, international peacemakers, and the American public at large."
Israelis consider Jerusalem the capital of their country, but Palestinians also claim right to the city as a capital of a future Palestinian state.
There is no country with a diplomatic mission to Israel that has its embassy in Jerusalem. Most are in Tel Aviv or one of its suburbs. The United States, like most other countries, currently has a consulate in Jerusalem that provides visas and other services.
In general, the argument is moot. The United States does not own Jerusalem and has no authority over its sovereignty. Israelis and Palestinians as well as Arab and Muslim states, for which Jerusalem is also a holy site, have much greater equities in its final status.
What's more, the peace process is in deep freeze, with Israelis and Palestinians further apart than ever on a peace deal settling the final-status issue. And the Obama administration, while insisting it is still working to bring the parties together, has put the issue on the back burner until after the election. The hope is that if Obama is re-elected he can revive the peace process, just like President George W. Bush, and before him Bill Clinton, did in their second terms.
Obama campaigned on improving U.S. ties with the Arab and Muslim world, yet his record has been spotty at best. Wednesday's campaign ploy certainly won't help. Should the president be re-elected, he will likely forget his campaign pledge for Jerusalem to remain the capital of Israel. But will the rest of the world?