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No matter what else happens in the world, that conflict is almost guaranteed to demand the next president's time. Senator Barack Obama has pledged to take a personal role, but he's already caused some controversy, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: There was one line in Barack Obama's speech to the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, in June that won the most applause in the room and caused a bit of an uproar in the Arab world.
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BARACK OBAMA: 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, defensible borders. And Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.
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KELEMEN: His top foreign policy adviser, Susan Rice, said his statement was misunderstood in some quarters, and she insisted he knows that this is a so- called final status issue. He just doesn't want to see barbed wire wind through Jerusalem.
SUSAN RICE: It's an issue to be negotiated by the parties, not one that Senator Obama presumed to pronounce on at AIPAC or anywhere else. It's a final status issue. Jerusalem ought to be Israel's capital, and it should not be re-divided as it once was for many years between '48 and '67, with checkpoints and barbed wire and the like.
RANDY SCHEUNEMANN: Sometimes it is hard to know how to contrast a position with Senator Obama because his positions are changing so frequently.
KELEMEN: That's Randy Scheunemann, the top foreign policy adviser to Republican John McCain. Scheunemann saw Obama's comments on Jerusalem as yet another opportunity to paint the Illinois Democrat as naive on foreign policy.
SCHEUNEMANN: I think what happened is they, for some reason, didn't anticipate the obvious reaction that making a statement that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital, and they changed on a dime. And I think that reflects inexperience in approaching the issues.
KELEMEN: As to McCain's position, Scheunemann offered a carefully worded statement that moved little beyond current U.S. policy.
SCHEUNEMANN: Senator McCain has said that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, that it is undivided today, that we should move our embassy there, and that if a democratic government of Israel chooses to accept an alteration of that status, that he's certainly not going to second-guess a democratic government of Israel.
KELEMEN: President Bush had been hoping the two sides could agree on the contours of a Palestinian state by the time he leaves office, but that goal looks unlikely. And Senator Obama has criticized the current administration for staying on the sidelines too long.
OBAMA: I won't wait until the waning days of my presidency. I will take an active role and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my administration.
KELEMEN: Obama has tried to distance himself from President Bush's approach to the Arab-Israeli issue, saying, for instance, he would encourage, not discourage, Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
JOHN MCCAIN: While we encourage this process, we must also ensure that Israel's people can live in safety until there is a Palestinian leadership willing and able to deliver peace.
KELEMEN: Whoever becomes president will inherit a mess in the Middle East. Hamas controls Gaza and refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, and more moderate Palestinians complain that the rate of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank will soon make a viable Palestinian state impossible. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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