US Democratic platform nixes conditioning aid to Israel over annexation

By a vote of 117-44, Democratic National Committee also rebuffs progressive push to ‘mention occupation’ in party’s 2020 policy document

Former vice president Joe Biden speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, DC, March 15, 2020. (AP/Evan Vucci)
Former vice president Joe Biden speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, DC, March 15, 2020. (AP/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party’s platform drafting committee voted down a motion Monday to include language in the 2020 document that would be more critical of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians.

By a vote of 117-34, the panel rejected an amendment that would mention the “Israeli occupation” and call for the United States to condition aid to the country if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu follows through on his plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

The amendment — proposed by Clem Balanoff, the Illinois director of Our Revolution, a Bernie Sanders-inspired nonprofit — also would have included criticism of settlement activity, not just settlement “expansion” as it currently does.

It came after liberal Mideast advocacy groups, such as J Street, pushed for the final document to include mention of the word “occupation” while they praised the draft for opposing annexation and declaring support for Palestinian rights.

Two former Obama officials argued against the amendment during a virtual meeting of the drafting committee Tuesday.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 3, 2013, before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing entitled. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

“Our assistance to Israel is a mutually beneficial investment — one that protects Israel from very real threats and helps promote security and stability in a region where we know all too well the costs of insecurity and instability,” said Wendy Sherman, a former deputy secretary of state who was the chief negotiator on the Iran nuclear deal.

Obama’s US ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro acknowledged that concerns about the language were not “addressed to the full satisfaction of all parties.” Still, he said, the document made “significant and overdue strides while sustaining the unity of our party.”

“The platform makes clear our opposition to unilateral steps by either side to undermine prospects for peace,” he argued. “For the first time, we say clearly…. our opposition to Israeli settlement expansion. For the first time, we state clearly and by name our opposition to Israel’s annexation of territory of the West Bank. We state clearly that we will continue to stand against incitement and terror, and for the first time, we recognize the right of Palestinians to live in a state of their own.”

Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro participates in the Meir Dagan Conference for Strategy and Defense, at the Netanya College, on March 21, 2018. (Meir Vaaknin/Flash90)

The entire platform, which serves as a blueprint for the party’s priorities over the next four years, was passed unanimously Tuesday by a voice vote. It will be ratified by the Democratic Party at next month’s convention and presented to the public.

The Democratic National Committee released the draft last week, breaking new ground from 2016 by including language that opposes annexation and supports Palestinian rights, but that also disappointed progressives by not using the word “occupation.”

“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.”

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.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference at the Health Ministry, July 23, 2020. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

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 and a criticism of all settlement activity, period.

J Street issued qualified praise of the document.

“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 candidate Joe 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 to 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.

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