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A view of the Old City and the Dome of the Rock mosque, from Mount of Olives in east Jerusalem, June 28, 2016. Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images
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Dems’ Fight Over Israel on Party Platform Appears To Be Over

A draft text of the Democratic party’s platform on Israel sets forth a ‘parallel acknowledgement of Israeli and Palestinian rights.’ But it doesn’t go as far as some would have liked.

Armin Rosen
July 01, 2016
Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images
A view of the Old City and the Dome of the Rock mosque, from Mount of Olives in east Jerusalem, June 28, 2016. Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

The fight over Israel in the Democratic party platform has just about been settled, according to a full, two-paragraph section of the draft version of the platform, which Tablet has seen, and Foreign Policy, which also obtained a section of the platform text relating to the party’s stance on Israel.

As Foreign Policy reported on June 29, the platform language on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflects a compromise between Senator Bernie Sanders’s appointees to the platform drafting committee, and more mainstream foreign policy voices with the Democratic party. (As Foreign Policy explains, a second committee will “adopt the language approved the drafters” later this month; the platform will then be formally adopted at the Democratic convention). So while the platform contains no mention of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, it acknowledges Palestinian aspirations in a way that previous platforms did not, according to Foreign Policy:

“We will continue to work toward a two-state solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders,” it reads, “and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty and dignity.”

In addition to the section that Foreign Policy quotes above, the text viewed by Tablet endorses Palestinian self-government in a viable future state, and includes a second reference to Palestinian “dignity” within the space of a single paragraph. But the full text makes it clear that this is less dramatic a concession than it might seem.

For instance, the platform states that the status of Jerusalem should be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinians, but that the city also should remain “undivided” and accessible in the meantime. There’s a reference to the U.S. maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, a policy that president Barack Obama has reportedly questioned. There’s no reference to any Israeli military occupation, and Palestinian dignity and sovereignty are discussed purely in the context of a final agreement.

In its current form, the platform is a far cry from what some advocacy groups were pushing for. On its website, the pro-peace, pro-Israel organization J Street still has a petition urging the platform committee to “show support for Israeli security AND Palestinian rights.” The petition argued that including references to the occupation in the platform wouldn’t actually be that divisive for the party, and wouldn’t even be that out of step with what Democratic party leadership and American Jews already believe.

Some have warned that adding language about Palestinian rights and the importance of ending the occupation will spark intraparty battles. But Hillary Clinton championed these issues as Secretary of State and Senator Bernie Sanders has raised them again and again during this campaign. Moreover, such views are completely in line with those of an overwhelming majority of American Jews and Democrats more broadly.

J Street attempted to salvage a victory out of what turned out to be a fairly equivocal result. As J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami noted in a statement released last weekend, “The new language breaks with the party’s practice of framing its aim of establishing a Palestinian state solely in terms of Israel’s interests,” through “including parallel acknowledgement of Israeli and Palestinian rights.”

Still, it’s debatable just how much of a shift the platform text represents. The platform committee preserved the core of the Democratic party’s earlier positions on Israel, and resisted including language that J Street and Sanders-aligned drafting committee members like James Zogby and Cornel West advocated. And as the Foreign Policy report makes clear, the drafters arrived at their language without triggering a particularly visible or fractious intra-party fight. In a year in which one of America’s major political parties has been in constant self-destruct mode, the scene described in Foreign Policy—of a late-night vote after an hour of respectful debate—tracks as relatively tame.

That might be evidence of Democrats’ ability to handle dicey intra-party issues. Or it could be a sign that the party’s positions on Israel aren’t as susceptible to the influence of the party’s left flank as they might seem.

Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet Magazine.