New DNC platform opposes ‘unilateral actions,’ supports Palestinian rights
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New DNC platform opposes ‘unilateral actions,’ supports Palestinian rights

Progressives argue policy document needs to acknowledge occupation, call it a step forward from 2016

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event, July 14, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (AP/Patrick Semansky)
Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event, July 14, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (AP/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party publicly released its draft 2020 platform Wednesday, breaking new ground from 2016 by including language that opposes annexation and supports Palestinian rights, but that also disappointed progressives by not mentioning occupation.

The policy document, which serves as a blueprint for the party’s priorities over the next four years, targeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposal to annex parts of the West Bank. The final document will be released next month.

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

Netanyahu has vowed to annex all 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.

The Democratic Party platform also called for a return to the Iran nuclear deal and for a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“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,” it says. “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.”

The final language of the platform will continue to be litigated in the weeks leading up to the Democrats’ August convention, when the official platform will be unveiled to the public. The Times of Israel viewed a copy of the draft last week.

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.”

What’s more, the 2020 platform explicitly opposes settlement expansion; in 2016, it did not mention the settlement issue.

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 called the document a “step forward” but said it couldn’t neglect occupation.

“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.

Other Democrats praised the document, saying it accomplished a compromise between the more progressive and traditional wings of the party.

“It would have been nice to see ‘occupation’ mentioned, but ultimately both establishment and progressive voices got a number of concessions,” tweeted Ilan Goldenberg, the Middle East Security Director at the Center for New American Security. “And the document is far better than 2016.”

Goldenberg, who worked on the Israel-Palestinian portfolio in the Obama administration, said the criticisms of Israeli expansionism and backing of Palestinian rights was a victory for progressives, while the commitment to Israel’s security and opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel was a victory for centrists.

Ilan Goldenberg of the Center for New American Security. (YouTube screenshot)

“Democrats believe a strong, secure, and democratic Israel is vital to the interests of the United States,” the platform says. “Our commitment to Israel’s security, its qualitative military edge, its right to defend itself, and the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding is ironclad.”

Ultimately, Goldenberg argued, the debate over mentioning occupation was not part of a policy dispute.

“The reality is that the argument over ‘occupation’ became more a proxy for who controls the party than about good policy,” he said. “And on this issue the moderates won the argument and got their way.”

Hady Amr, a former deputy special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the Obama administration, likewise acknowledged that the new platform went further than 2016’s, but that it still didn’t go as far as some would like.

“The 2020 Democratic Party Platform as it stands does represent progress over 2016, but progressives should continue to advocate for all people — including all residents of the Holy Land — to live with equal measures for freedom, security, prosperity and dignity,” he tweeted.

The platform also said that Democrats will seek to rebuild America’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority, which has deteriorated over the last three years.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas listens while US President Donald Trump makes a statement for the press before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

“Democrats will restore US-Palestinian diplomatic ties and critical assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, consistent with US law,” it says.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas cut off all ties with the Trump White House after the president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the embassy there from Tel Aviv.

In response, Trump cut aid to the PA and East Jerusalem hospitals, and shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization’s DC office.

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