What the Democratic Platform on Israel Fails to Mention

Can Palestinians really be 'free to govern themselves' if no one acknowledges the military occupation? By trying to have it both ways, Democrats ended up with a platform that says nothing.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders speak simultaneously during a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016.
Reuters

Following weeks of mutual arm-twisting by both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders loyalists, the Democratic National Committee revealed the final draft of its party platform on Friday. When it comes to issues like $15 minimum wage or abolishing the death penalty, the platform – still pending ratification later this month – is generally more progressive than many expected. When it comes to Israel, though, the Democratic platform is not only predictably tame – in a year where the Democratic Party was pushed further to the left by a progressive insurgency, the Israel chapter of its platform is actually remarkably conservative.

The word “Israel” appears nine times in the Democratic platform. The word “Palestinian(s)” appears three times. The draft promises to “always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge.” It also includes harsh language in regards to the BDS movement, promising to “oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.”

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the platform states: “We will continue to work toward a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty and dignity.” Israelis, it says, “deserve security, recognition and a normal life free from terror and incitement.” Palestinians, too, “should be free to govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.”

What’s missing? The word “occupation,” for one. Also the word “settlements,” preferably followed by the word “withdrawal.”

Essentially, the platform offers no movement on the traditional Democratic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: obligatory lip-service to the idea of a two-state solution combined with an uncritical support for Israel that, by omission, enables the very policies that prevent Palestinian statehood.

The purpose of party platforms, of course, is to win as many votes as possible. They are not binding, don’t necessarily translate into policy, and when they do, are often modified to reflect political realities. But platforms can serve as indications to the mindset and general intentions of a future administration, and in that regard, the DNC platform should disappoint anyone who sincerely hoped a Clinton administration might stir Israelis and Palestinians toward a more positive path than the one they are currently on.

Can Palestinians be “free to govern themselves” without the removal (let alone acknowledgement) of military occupation? Can a “viable” Palestinian state coexist with settlements gutting it every which way? Is it possible to support Palestinian statehood without addressing the main roadblocks to achieving said statehood? By trying to have it both ways, Democrats ended up with a platform that says nothing at all.

Sanders’ appointees on the draft committee reportedly tried to pass an amendment that would have called for an end to the occupation and “illegal settlements,” as well as rebuilding Gaza. The amendment would have still included much of the language of the current draft, including a reaffirmation of American support for Israel, but would have also recognized Palestinian concerns. That amendment was ultimately shot down, leaving the final draft with a vague call for Palestinian “dignity,” without specifying what “dignity” actually means.

As we get closer to November, it appears that Israel will likely become an even bigger issue in this presidential election. As Israel struggles with a deadly wave of terror attacks, Trump and Clinton seem to compete over who among them is more unwaveringly supportive of Israel. So far, Trump and Clinton have sounded remarkably similar when it comes to the issue of Israel. Their nearly-identical AIPAC speeches in March served as a poignant case in point.

Now, the current Democratic platform on Israel-Palestine is one that many Republicans, even the supposedly “neutral” Trump, would approve, which is exactly its point: Sympathy for Palestinians’ plight does not win U.S. elections – unwavering support for “our great friend Israel” does.

No one can fault Democrats for trying to actually win this election. But anyone that doesn’t see the current platform as a pretty strong indication of where a potential Clinton administration will stand on Israel is most likely kidding themselves: As Peter Beinart recently demonstrated in Haaretz, this kind of aversion to criticizing Israel is Hillary Clinton through and through.

Why is that bad? Because for its own sake, Israel does not need uncritical, unwavering support. It desperately needs to be challenged. It is currently barreling down a pretty hopeless path toward becoming a de-facto apartheid state, buoyed by anti-democratic ultranationalist forces that effectively made sure the two-state solution is all but completely dead. Throughout all this, the U.S. (even the much-maligned Obama administration) offered little to no resistance. Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has been woefully uncritical of Israel herself, so eager to please hawkish Jewish donors that she essentially adopted all the favorite talking points of Netanyahu and the Israeli right.

As it is, the current Democratic platform is to the left of Clinton on several issues, such as the death penalty and minimum wage. When it comes to Israel, though, the platform has been especially well-suited for the nominee. This is disappointing, since with the appointment of people like Cornel West and James Zogby to the platform draft committee there was a chance that this time, a more substantive, balanced message will be formed.

Instead, what the DNC ended up with is contradictory, opaque and completely out of touch with the reality of the region. It is likely to play very well with American voters, but offers very little hope for Israelis and Palestinians who were hoping for more, well, hope and change.