Romney Israel "gaffe": He's not the first

In Jerusalem, while voicing support for Israel's right to self-defense, Mitt Romney had to back off an aide's suggestion that he'd support a strike against Iran's nuclear program. In an interview with Jan Crawford, Mr. Romney attempted to clarify his position on the matter.

Romney backs Israel in opposing Iran's nuclear armament
(CBS News) Mitt Romney has come under a considerable amount of criticism from the British, the Palestinians and thepress for various things he said during his just-completed overseas tour. Yet one of Romney's statements relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been described as a major gaffe has long been a feature of campaign posturing.

Romney has received criticism for stating both in a speech and in television interviews that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. While Israel has long maintained that Jerusalem is its capital city, the United States and other nations keep their embassies in Tel Aviv as East Jerusalem is still contested territory.

"It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel," Romney said during a speech in Jerusalem over the weekend.

Romney's statement received a strong rebuke from the Palestinians, with senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat  calling it "absolutely unacceptable."

An editorial in the Chinese Xinhua News Agency said Romney's "radical words" are "likely to worsen the already tense Mideast situation, and even reignite a war between Palestinians and Israelis."

The Obama campaign also challenged Romney's statement. In a briefing with reporters, spokesperson Josh Earnest said "the capital is something that should be determined in final status negotiations between the parties. I'd remind you that that's the position that's been held by previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican."

Despite the criticism, Romney's statement appears to be in line with positions held by previous presidential candidates.

(Watch a clip of Romney's speech in Israel in video on the left.)

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama himself said "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided." Mr. Obama went further than Romney, in fact, in saying the city must be undivided.

David Makovsky, Middle East expert at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said nearly every candidate dating back to the 1980s has said during the campaign that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. And a Washington Post fact check released Tuesday concurred.

"How many times have people tried to sell the same things?" Makovsky asked. "There's the universe of government and then there's the campaigning in which both Democrats and Republicans make the same pledge."

"No one is questioning that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, but we just haven't recognized it by moving our embassy," Makovsky said in an interview with CBSNews.com Tuesday.

(White House assesses Romney's overseas trip in press briefing.)

The reason no president has moved the embassy - despite their campaign promises - is the potential impact of doing so on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Presidents, including Mr. Obama, have instead said they will wait for the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Asked about Mr. Obama's 2008 comments, the Obama campaign pointed CBSNews.com to a 2008 interview in which the then-candidate somewhat softened his initial rhetoric when asked if he would oppose any division of Jerusalem.

"My belief is that, as a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute," Mr. Obama said. "And I think that it is smart for us to - to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in old Jerusalem but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city."

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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