Facing criticism, Obama modifies Jerusalem stance

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks to the media en route to Dulles Airport in Virginia, June 5, 2008. Obama is campaigning on the outskirts of Washington in Bristow, Virginia. REUTERS/Jason Reed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama amended his support for Israel’s stance on Jerusalem on Thursday, saying Palestinians and Israelis had to negotiate the future of the holy city.

Palestinian leaders reacted with anger and dismay on Wednesday to Obama saying Jerusalem should be Israel’s undivided capital.

“Well, 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,” Obama told CNN when asked whether Palestinians had no future claim to the city.

Asked if he opposed any division of Jerusalem, Obama said: “As a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute. 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.”

In Washington on Wednesday, Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby group, that if elected president in November, he would work for peace with a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided,” he told the lobby group.

The United States and other powers do not regard Jerusalem as Israel’s capital -- the U.S. and other embassies are in Tel Aviv -- and do not recognize Israel’s annexation of Arab East Jerusalem following its capture in the 1967 Middle East war.

The outgoing U.S. president, George W. Bush, has sponsored peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in the hope of securing a deal on a Palestinian state before he leaves office in January.

One of the thorniest issues is resolving the rival Israeli and Palestinian demands on the future of Jerusalem.

Writing by Howard Goller; Editing by Peter Cooney