Jul 17, 2016

J Street's Jeremy Ben-Ami Talks the Danger of The Republican Platform and His Quest for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

J Street

Tomorrow, the Republican National Convention will kick off in Cleveland. The Democrats will start pouring into Philadelphia the week after. After almost a year of heated political maneuvering, we’re about to enter into the homestretch of 2016.
In the lead-up to the conventions, the Democratic and Republican parties completed work on their party platforms this week, and the documents tell the tale of two parties moving in very different directions when it comes to Israel.
While Democrats made modest progress toward a balanced, productive policy, the GOP took an alarming turn in a dangerous direction.
The Democratic platform, for the first time, included language recognizing the legitimate rights and national aspirations of the Palestinian people. While affirming the importance of the two-state solution for securing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, it made clear that Palestinians too deserve “independence, sovereignty and dignity.”
This step brings the party’s doctrine more into line with the consensus of its members, who want to see American diplomacy bring the sides together to resolve the conflict and improve the lives of both peoples.
And it moves past the tired trope that being pro-Israel means ignoring the legitimate rights of Palestinians -- a trope that both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders rejected during their primary campaigns, when they engaged in substantive conversations about the conflict and the two-state solution.
Of course there must be and will be further movement in the party's position in the future. It’s established, bipartisan American policy to oppose unlimited expansion of Israeli settlements and a party that stands for equality and justice will one day call out the ongoing occupation. In fact, over 40 percent of the platform committee supported an amendment that would have done just that, signaling the direction in which the party is moving on these issues.
Yet while the progress in the Democratic Party is an encouraging sign for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans, changes in the Republican Party platform are a sobering reminder that irresponsible and extreme ideas are gaining traction on the American political right.
For decades, Republican presidents have combined strong support for Israeli security with opposition to settlements and support for two states. President George H.W. Bush withheld loan guarantees and President George W. Bush called for a Palestinian state in a landmark Rose Garden speech. Both put the full weight of American diplomacy -- at Madrid and Annapolis -- behind efforts to resolve the conflict.
These positions have formed the basis for decades of bipartisan consensus around Israel and the US-Israel relationship.
The 2016 Republican platform disregards that legacy entirely. It withdraws support for the two-state solution, deletes all reference to Palestinians and makes a point of emphatically rejecting the notion that Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank.
These positions move the GOP far outside the American consensus and place the party at odds not just with the 80 percent of Jewish Americans who support two states -- but with the stated position of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Republican abandonment of its commitment to resolving the conflict and securing Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state lines the party up with the minority of Israelis who support the settlement movement and one-state annexationists.
These changes didn’t come from nowhere -- they appear to be driven by the concerted lobbying efforts of far-right activists in groups like “Iron Dome PAC." These hardliners have even slammed AIPAC from the right, insisting that they give up on bipartisanship altogether. They want their party to equate support for Israel with support for Greater Israel -- and they want to treat Palestinians as if they don’t exist.
These ideas are not just hopelessly out of touch with reality, and with most voters. They are dangerous.
But one need look no further than this Congress to feel concern that these forces are succeeding in promoting legislation, sometimes supported by more mainstream groups, that seeks to blur the Green Line and undermine the basis for the two-state solution.
For those who believe the future of Israelis and Palestinians -- and possibly the peace and security of the Middle East -- depend on a negotiated resolution of their conflict, the growing partisan divide on these issues must be of real concern.
We can only hope that once Election Day is past, responsible leaders in the Republican Party who understand the region and the world will stand up to those advancing a reckless agenda and help bring the parties back into alignment on these critical issues.
Our goal must be rebuilding bipartisan consensus around diplomacy and two states, not making Israel even more of a partisan political football.
- Jeremy