Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Democratic Party Platform and Israel: What It Really Tells Us

This article is published at PJMedia.

The Democratic Party Platform and Israel: What It Really Tells Us

By Barry Rubin

Many political criticisms, particularly during an election year, are subjective and can be challenged. Has something been taken out of context? A claim misunderstood? A word twisted? What’s special about analyzing the Democratic Party platform over Israel is that it is easy to take the text and show how support for Israel has been reduced, in some cases shockingly so.

This is the draft platform and it was written by experts. The problem is the identity of those experts. This platform is a combination of “we love Israel” rhetoric (put in by the politicians?) with some serious policy problems (put in by their advisors?).

The Democratic response has been denial. Oh, no, there is nothing new or different and the platform corresponds with standard U.S. policy. The first half of that statement is a lie; the second half is technically true but in some ways it shows the replacement of the traditional over-promising on Israel to what might be called the standard historical State Department line. The base line, then, has been pulled back. If you start out promising the kid a pony you’ve got to produce something impressive; if your initial offer is a text on grammar one can expect less to be delivered in the end.

Moreover, this is not some case of working with the left-of-center in Israeli politics. The key issues with this platform go against the Israeli consensus, not just Likud preferences. Finally, while more amusing than damaging, there’s a lot of bragging about things attributed to Obama that are either standard U.S. policy under his predecessors or due to bipartisan action in Congress.

But here’s the thing that upset me just as much. The title of the section under which Israel appears is entitled, “Strengthening Alliances, Expanding Partnerships, and Reinvigorating International Institutions.” There is only one sentence about all the Middle Eastern countries other than Israel! It is of vital importance for U.S. interests, and for Israel, too, that the United States continues to maintain good cooperation with a dozen specific Arab states. The platform is an insult to America’s Arab allies, who have been dissed by Obama as he has tended to help or support their enemies.

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Here I'll focus on the Israel section:

The Middle East. President Obama and the Democratic Party maintain an unshakable commitment to Israel's security. A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States not simply because we share strategic interests, but also because we share common values. For this reason, despite budgetary constraints, the President has worked with Congress to increase security assistance to Israel every single year since taking office, providing nearly $10 billion in the past three years. The administration has also worked to ensure Israel's qualitative military edge in the region.

And we have deepened defense cooperation—including funding the Iron Dome system—to help Israel address its most pressing threats, including the growing danger posed by rockets and missiles emanating from the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. The President's consistent support for Israel's right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage are further evidence of our enduring commitment to Israel's security.

“It is precisely because of this commitment that President Obama and the Democratic Party seek peace between Israelis and Palestinians. A just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples, would contribute to regional stability and help sustain Israel's identity as a Jewish and democratic state. At the same time, the President has made clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel's security concerns are met. President Obama will continue to press Arab states to reach out to Israel. We will continue to support Israel's peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, which have been pillars of peace and stability in the region for many years. And even as the President and the Democratic Party continue to encourage all parties to be resolute in the pursuit of peace, we will insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel's right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements.

Sounds pretty good? But consider the following issues:

--Jerusalem is not mentioned at all. In previous platforms, the Democrats supported the idea of Jerusalem as being and remaining Israel’s capital and an undivided city. The platform may adhere to U.S. official policy but not to the party’s historic position but not to the promises Obama made to Jewish voters at AIPAC and elsewhere. This switch has made headlines in Israel with even left-wingers angry and upset.

Note: After a nasty internal fight, language about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel was put into the platform. (The word "God" was also restored.) But the vote was clearly fraudulent since it required a two-thirds' majority to make the amendment and a majority voted against. The vote was held three times and with the majority opposing each time the chairman just lied and said it was adopted.  In other words, the majority of Democratic delegates opposed recognizing Jerusalem--not united Jerusalem even!--as Israel's capital.

-- Terms of a peace agreement. Previous Democratic platforms have clearly stated that Palestinian refugees should be resettled in a state of Palestine. The Palestinian Authority's demand that all Palestinians who want to do so with any historical claim to having been there before 1948 can go and live in Israel (“the right of return”) is not explicitly rejected in the new platform as it was in old ones. This is a very serious matter for all Israeli parties because that demand is seen by them as evidence that the Palestinians don't want a two-state solution but the destruction of Israel by flooding it with millions of Palestinians. By no longer explicitly rejecting this notion, the Democratic platform removes support for Israel on a critical issue. 

--There is no explicit reference to the Gaza Strip and Hamas, except for the anti-rocket system. Previously, the platform called for isolating Hamas. Obama undermined this by demanding a reduction in Israeli sanctions after the flotilla incident. By helping a new, Muslim Brotherhood government take power in Egypt—a regime allied to Hamas—Obama has made this the most dangerous front for Israel. The Democratic platform suggests that the party recognizes no specific danger in Hamas.

--There is also no reference to Hizballah and its threat to Israel from Lebanon, again except for the anti-rocket system. This threat led to a war in 2006 and poses a constant terrorist threat.

In other words, this is part of an overall pattern of playing down the threat of revolutionary Islamism or the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizballah, or other Salafists and Jihadists pose some big problem.

On a number of points, the party tries to take credit for just continuing historic policies or for bipartisan things everyone supported, aid and military cooperation specifically.

For me, the most offensive passage is this one:

“The President's consistent support for Israel's right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage are further evidence of our enduring commitment to Israel's security.”
In fact, no president has done more to do less about fighting the delegitimization of Israel by his own statements and actions than has Obama. And in some cases, especially regarding Gaza, he has not really supported Israel’s right to defend itself in practice. I will leave the Iran issue and U.S. behavior in the UN for your own evaluation regarding this point but one could compile a long list of items in each case.

Regarding the “peace process,” Obama’s pressing Arab states to move toward peace with Israel lasting a couple of weeks and was never a serious, sustained policy. He has literally never criticized the Palestinian Authority and its behavior nor has he ever pressed them very hard, that kind of thing is reserved exclusively for the Democratic platform.

As for defending the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, while Obama did make some gesture to help secure an Egyptian pull-back last month, to portray him as helping to preserve that document is a joke.

Finally, past Democratic platforms have clearly taken Israel's side, making it clear that they viewed Israel as the party sincerely trying to resolve the dispute and the other side obstructing a solution. Despite some of its language, this platform is neutral basically. Yes, it highlights burdens on the Palestinians rather than on Israel, but it gives no hint as to why there has been no progress toward peace. This may be more understandable in a U.S. government document and Obama is in fact the president, but this is the party platform. Historically, the Democratic Party--pressed by members of Congress--wanted to show that it was on Israel's side. Who better than Bill Clinton, even though he doesn't tell the truth about it today, saw in the 1990s how the Palestinian side sabotaged peace and the Arab states didn't help?

Yet this is a party dominated by a top-down group far more to the left, less friendly to Israel, run more by the Progressive Caucus types in Congress, and using "experts" who are often openly hostile to Israel. They put in the boilerplate to keep the suckers--and party moderates--happy but also subtly signal that they don't mean it.
I will analyze the platform’s broader view of the region in another article but again note that except for a vague promise of support for the Persian Gulf Arab states to defend themselves, the platform sees no other “alliances” or “partnerships” other than Israel. This section is thus just to titillate Jewish and pro-Israel voters. If they read it closely it would have the opposite effect.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

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