Dovish former MKs urge US Democrats to ‘reject occupation’ in platform
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Dovish former MKs urge US Democrats to ‘reject occupation’ in platform

Group of 27 ex-Israeli officials, including 7 retired diplomats, calls on party to oppose annexation and support the creation of a Palestinian state

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Democratic presidential candidate and former US vice president Joe Biden in New Castle, Del., on July 21, 2020 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Democratic presidential candidate and former US vice president Joe Biden in New Castle, Del., on July 21, 2020 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — A group of 27 dovish former Knesset members and Israeli diplomats sent a letter to the Democratic Party’s platform drafting committee Friday urging them to “reject occupation” in the 2020 policy document.

The letter comes after the Democratic National Committee released a draft of the platform last week, which broke new ground from 2016 by opposing annexation and supporting Palestinian rights, but that also disappointed progressives by leaving out any mention of Israel’s military presence in the West Bank.

“We are reaching out to our friends in the Democratic Party to ask that you ensure that the party’s platform explicitly rejects Israel’s occupation over the Palestinian people, the Trump plan, and the annexation of any part of the occupied territories,” the ex-officials wrote.

“We call upon you to voice your support for the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel with Jerusalem as a shared capital, and with both peoples living in peace and security,” they added.

The signatories include former MKs such as Naomi Chazan, Zehava Galon, Mickey Rosenthal and Yossi Yonah, as well as Colette Avital, former Israeli consul general in New York; Elie Barnavi, former Israeli ambassador to France; Ilan Baruch, former Israeli ambassador to South Africa; and Barukh Binah, former Israeli ambassador to Denmark and former deputy head of mission to the Israeli embassy in Washington.

The 2020 Democratic platform, which serves as a blueprint for the party’s policy priorities over the next four years, will be finalized at next month’s Democratic National Convention.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

The draft unveiled Wednesday targeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to annex parts of the West Bank and called for a return to the Iran nuclear deal and for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Democrats oppose any unilateral steps by either side — including annexation — that undermine prospects for two states,” the text says.

Netanyahu has vowed to annex some settlements and the Jordan Valley — the areas allocated to Israel under US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which conditionally envisions a Palestinian state in the remaining territory with land swaps.

“Democrats recognize the worth of every Israeli and every Palestinian. That’s why we will work to help bring to an end a conflict that has brought so much pain to so many,” the letter reads. “We support a negotiated two-state solution that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state with recognized borders and upholds the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.”

Many progressive activists noted that the mention of Palestinian rights made the platform more progressive than the 2016 outline, which said that the “Palestinians should be free to govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.”

Still, the language did not go far enough for some of the more liberal members of the Democratic base, who wanted to see an acknowledgment of Israel’s military presence in the West Bank.

The left-wing Mideast advocacy group J Street, for instance, called the document a “step forward” but said it couldn’t neglect occupation.

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami addresses the liberal Zionist group’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. in October 2019 (Courtesy)

“This draft language is a step forward… but the Democratic platform *must* include mention of occupation,” the organization tweeted. It also included a link for its members to sign a petition urging the drafting committee to amend the section.

The views expressed in the draft align with Biden’s recent statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how he would conduct Middle East policy.

He has repeatedly voiced opposition to annexation — which he has said would “choke off any hope for peace” — while vowing to keep aid to Israel at the same levels delineated in the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding and restore US-Palestinian ties.

“I’m going to reverse the Trump administration’s steps that I think significantly undercut the prospects of peace,” he told Jewish donors in May.

The Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the 2020 platform draft.

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