Former US national security officials urge Dems to oppose annexation in platform

Former US national security officials urge Dems to oppose annexation in platform

In letter to DNC, more than 30 Democratic foreign policy veterans push for 2020 document to take strong stance against Israel extending sovereignty over West Bank territories

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Ben Rhodes participates in the 'Stranger than Fiction: A Conversation with Cast Members of the West Wing' panel at Politicon at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)
Ben Rhodes participates in the 'Stranger than Fiction: A Conversation with Cast Members of the West Wing' panel at Politicon at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

WASHINGTON — More than 30 former Democratic foreign policy officials have urged the Democratic National Committee to take a stronger stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its 2020 platform than it did in 2016, pushing for language that would oppose Israel’s planned annexation of West Bank territory and call for a greater commitment to Palestinian human rights.

The missive, sent this week, asserts that the Democratic Party should maintain its support for a two-state solution, but take a firmer position on the settlements and the plight of Palestinians.

It comes as a newly formed unity government between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz could pave the way for Israel to annex roughly 30 percent of the West Bank, following the contours of US President Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal unveiled in January.

“The 2020 platform should expressly state a commitment to a resolution of the conflict that ensures both Israel’s security and future as a Jewish and democratic state with equal rights for all its citizens, as well as Palestinian rights, including self-determination, security and freedom,” the letter says.

From left, Democratic US presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, talk before a Democratic presidential primary debate, February 25, 2020, in Charleston, South Carolina. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

“It should include clear opposition to ongoing occupation, settlement expansion and any form of unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank as well as clear opposition to violence, terrorism and incitement from all sides.”

Such language would reflect a shift for the party, which in past platforms has been reluctant to criticize Israel. This year, however, there may be increasing pressure on the DNC and presumptive nominee Joe Biden to change that.

The progressive wing of the Democratic party — fueled by supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — has been pushing for a Middle East policy more critical of Israel’s right-wing government and more sympathetic of the Palestinian cause.

The letter was signed by a number of high-profile national security veterans who worked in the Obama administration, including former top advisers Ben Rhodes, Phil Gordon and Rob Malley, and peace negotiators Ilan Goldenberg, Frank Lowenstein and Martin Indyk, who also served as US ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration.

It was also signed by Anthony Lake, former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, and Daniel Kurtzer, former US envoy to Israel under President George W. Bush, a Republican.

The party platform — which articulates its agenda and policy goals for the upcoming four years — is litigated in the months and weeks leading up to the Democratic National Convention, which is slated to take place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this August, although it’s unclear whether it will go as planned given the COVID-19 pandemic.

US President Donald Trump participates in an expanded bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 27, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

Last week, the State Department said it was ready to recognize Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank. “As we have made consistently clear, we are prepared to recognize Israeli actions to extend Israeli sovereignty and the application of Israeli law to areas of the West Bank that the [peace plan] foresees as being part of the State of Israel,” a US spokesperson told The Times of Israel.

The official added that the step should be “in the context of the Government of Israel agreeing to negotiate with the Palestinians along the lines set forth in President Trump’s Vision.”

The Palestinians have refused to negotiate with the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating the embassy there from Tel Aviv, saying it could no longer act as an honest mediator.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened last week to go further and cancel all agreements with Israel and the US if Jerusalem moved forward with annexation plans (though he has notably threatened to do so on numerous previous occasions).

That came after Netanyahu said he was “confident” Trump would allow him to fulfill his election promise of annexation in “a couple of months.”

According to the deal between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White faction, starting on July 1, 2020, Netanyahu “will be able to bring the agreement reached with the US on the application of sovereignty [in the West Bank] for the approval of the cabinet and/or the Knesset.”

In other words, Israel may be able to move forward on annexation as soon as this summer.

Secretary of State John Kerry with former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk at the State Department in Washington, Monday, July 29, 2013, as he announces that Indyk will shepherd the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. (Photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

This week’s letter, signed by 32 ex-officials, was welcomed by the progressive pro-Israel lobby J Street, which called it “important and timely.”

The 2016 party platform declared a commitment to Israel’s security, as well as an opposition to the BDS campaign against Israel.

“We will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement,” the platform said.

At the same time, it called for a two-state solution, with Jerusalem remaining Israel’s capital in a final accord, but had only one sentence on the Palestinians, who it said “should be free to govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, February 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Democratic letter criticized those past documents for neglecting the Palestinian issue and for ignoring Israeli actions the signatories deemed damaging to the prospects of a two-state outcome.

“Past party platforms have rightly stated a commitment to Israel’s security and included condemnations of threats and actions against our ally, in addition to embracing a two-state outcome,” the missive says.

“​Those platforms have, however, also been nearly silent on the rights of Palestinians, on Israeli actions that undermine those rights and the prospects for a two-state solution, and on the need for security for both peoples.”

The officials pressed the DNC to take a harder stand in 2020, given the changes that have occurred to US foreign policy toward the conflict under the Trump administration, such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and cutting aid to the Palestinians.

“We ask that the platform address these issues — each of which has been exacerbated under the current administration — to make clear what a comprehensive effort to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should look like under a future Democratic administration,” they wrote.

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