President Joe Biden Will Have the Palestinians' Back – and Israel's, Too

Bernie Sanders’ Jewish outreach director: From opposing settlements to protecting the right to criticize Israeli policies without fear, the Democratic party platform on Israel-Palestine is the most realistic and most progressive of its kind

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Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a Clean Energy event in Wilmington, Delaware.  July 13, 2020
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a Clean Energy event in Wilmington, Delaware. July 13, 2020 Credit: Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is never going to be an easy task. Multiple American presidents have dedicated significant amounts of time to this cause with limited success. 

Yet the clock for peace is ticking. And we are on the precipice of a disastrous Israeli annexation of the West Bank that could permanently undermine the chance for achieving a two-state solution.

This is why we need a realistic policy that moves us towards peace, and why the current draft Democratic party platform on Israel-Palestine is both so important and strong. The next four years may be the last window for an American president to help the two sides get to peace.

What this platform does is serve as a pivot from Donald Trump’s failed Middle East peace policies while also building upon the 2016 Democratic platform in significant ways. This version makes additions that aren’t just more progressive, but that are also more helpful in getting the parties to a solution.

Let’s get real. If a two-state solution isn’t achieved soon, then we will witness further deterioration in the status quo between Israelis and Palestinians and increasing calls for a one-state non-solution. One state will almost certainly lead to either permanent occupation and disenfranchisement of Palestinians, or a minority status for Jewish Israelis. 

This is why neither side currently calls for such an outcome. Two states must be an urgent priority.

Thankfully, this platform, unlike its predecessors, focuses squarely on the substantive issues that will facilitate a two-state solution. While it is, at its core, a political document, it also has a role to play in laying out a realistic vision of the positions that a president should take to achieve peace.

On this count, the platform should give pro-Middle East peace progressives confidence that an incoming Biden administration has it right on the substance.

For example, the platform makes opposition to Israeli settlements central to its language – the first time ever for any party platform. It condemns unilateral actions by both sides, including annexation -- meaning that for the first time, a party platform explicitly tells Israel to not take such unilateral steps.

It also clearly calls for the creation of a "viable" Palestinian state, where Palestinians “should be free to govern themselves.” That has not been referenced in a Democratic platform since 2008, and the 2008 platform merely called for a Palestinian state, and only as a result of final-status negotiations. No such caveat exists now. 

And perhaps most significantly, it makes a clear statement about the human worth and value of both Palestinians and Israelis. It’s frankly troubling that such a statement had not been included in previous platforms: its inclusion this year is important. Human life on both sides of the conflict is valued as equal. Period.

In addition, the platform also maintains many longstanding points about "ironclad" support for military aid to Israel and a Democratic belief that a "strong, secure, and democratic Israel is vital to the interests of the United States."

These pro-Israel aid positions are not problematic to peacemaking, so long as they are not the only such position – and in this platform, they’re not. Here, the platform explicitly pledges to "restore U.S.-Palestinian diplomatic ties and critical assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, consistent with U.S. law." 

Just as a Democratic President Joe Biden would continue to have Israel’s back, so, too would he for the Palestinians who have been completely abandoned by Donald Trump.

One more item should hearten progressives: the language related to Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). This platform allows for "protecting the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech." Such a nod to progressives is significant, as it makes clear that the Democratic party does not seek to demonize and make speech that is critical of Israel illegal nor even completely off limits.

Every American should be free to criticize Israeli policies without fear of going to jail or being automatically called an antisemite. 

The opposite viewpoint has taken root in the Trump administration’s authoritarian approach to government. Democrats have drawn a clear line in defense of civil liberties, which will ultimately lead to a more inclusive American public debate about Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

At its core, this platform expresses the vision and core principles that will guide the next president in his peacemaking work. While there will be debates about specific language – and there should be – there’s no debate or doubt about Joe Biden’s commitment to tackling the core obstacles to peace. It’s there in black and white.

That’s why the Democratic party platform on Israel-Palestine is both the most realistic and most progressive of its kind.

Joel Rubin was the Jewish Outreach Director for the Bernie Sanders 2020 Presidential Campaign and is a former Obama-Biden Administration Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. Twitter: @joelmartinrubin

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