POLITICS

Progressives Push Biden To Include New Israel-Palestine Language In Democratic Platform

In a draft, Democrats shied away from using the term "occupation" to describe Israel's military rule over millions of Palestinians. Activists want a change before the final vote.

Progressive activists are making a last-ditch effort to convince the Democratic Party and its presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden to denounce Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, disputed territory where the U.S. ally administers military law over millions of Palestinians.

In a new statement, advocates say the Democratic platform should use the word “occupation” for the first time in reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Campaigners argue that approach would be in keeping with Democrats’ commitment to social justice, growing sensitivity to Palestinians’ concerns and increasing skepticism of hardline Israeli policies encouraged by President Donald Trump.

Win Without War, IfNotNow, Justice Democrats, Demand Progress and eight other organizations signed a joint message exclusively shared with HuffPost on Thursday.

“Condemning the Israeli occupation by name should be the bare minimum for any leader of the Democratic Party,” the coalition wrote. “We urge the [Democratic National Committee] Platform Committee to have the courage to correctly name the situation on the ground — a necessary precursor to taking meaningful action that can hold the Israeli government accountable for ongoing violations of human rights and international law.”

The message comes after the Democratic National Committee’s platform drafting committee voted to advance the language for the platform on Wednesday. It has not yet been made public. But a draft platform viewed by HuffPost does not mention “occupation.” A report in Jewish Insider also suggested the term was not used.

Liberals working on Israel-Palestine policy say acknowledging the occupation is crucial to highlighting the restrictive conditions under which most Palestinians live and recognizing that Washington’s traditional approach of overwhelming support for Israel will not produce a just peace.

“For years, those opposed to self-determination and basic human rights for Palestinians have controlled the terms of the debate,” the Thursday statement continues, saying Democrats must show solidarity with the Palestinians just as they challenge racism in the U.S.

Nearly 200 Democratic delegates from across the county will approve the platform in a vote on July 27. Progressives hope to win a tweak through an amendment or negotiations before that final decision, likely with support from delegates pledged to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who made reforming U.S. policy in the Middle East a top issue during his run for the Democratic nomination. During Wednesday’s meeting of the drafting panel, Sanders adviser Josh Orton hinted that he plans an amendment to be considered by the party’s full platform committee.

The draft platform will be presented to that committee in the coming weeks and the final language will be approved by delegates during the voting period in August, a DNC spokesperson told HuffPost via email.

J Street, an influential Jewish group that promotes a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, also promised to continue pushing for a reference to the occupation of land that would be integral to a future Palestinian state, saying it was “very concerned” about the draft language in a statement on Wednesday. Earlier this year, more than 30 former U.S. officials working on national security and more than 200 Jewish leaders signed a petition from the organization that asked Democrats to be more explicit about their views on Israel-Palestine in the 2020 platform. (One of the former officials, Avril Haines, is now a key adviser to Biden.)

Promoting an even-handed approach would create a contrast with Trump, who has taken unprecedented actions to favor Israel without asking it to make any concessions to the Palestinians. Those decisions, such as reversing decades of American policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and recognizing the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, have damaged hopes that the U.S. can cut a deal between the two sides. And Trump’s support has encouraged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce plans to annex parts of the West Bank, a dramatic unilateral move that would make future talks much harder.

Biden called the occupation “a real problem, a significant problem” on the campaign trail last year. Diplomats from the U.S. and other countries and nonpartisan analysts regularly use the word, as did former President Barack Obama.

But he does not appear to believe criticism of the occupation belongs in the Democratic platform. The Biden campaign did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

The former vice president is wary of controversies that Trump could exploit (as he has tried to do over Israel by saying Democrats are abandoning the country) or angering important backers ― and in his own decades of working on foreign policy, has attempted to ensure he does not appear overly critical of Israel, frequently noting Palestinians’ missteps. 

Still, his aides have broadly accepted a need to update Democrats’ message on Israel-Palestine.The platform language approved Wednesday includes the platform’s strongest-ever reference to Palestinian rights and first condemnation of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, as well as opposition to Netanyahu’s annexation plan.

More conservative factions in the Democratic coalition, including other advocacy outfits and powerful pro-Israel donors, have warned the former vice president and his advisers against the term and going into detail on the contentious issue in the platform, however.

“Vague slogans are not a policy,” Rachel Rosen of Democratic Majority for Israel, a group that opposed Sanders in the primary and has defended supporters of conventional U.S. policy on Israel against criticism from the left, told HuffPost in an email. “Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate claims and they must negotiate a solution. Our platform can’t draw the boundaries.” 

Some opponents of Israel, including terror groups, consider even the country’s territory outside the West Bank occupied, she wrote. “For them, ‘ending the occupation’ means destroying Israel. Democrats oppose the destruction of Israel.”

With Democrats often reiterating support for Israel, including in the draft platform, left-leaning activists say it’s important to show the party upholds universal standards and acknowledges the hurdles to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“The reported strides the platform makes towards progressive domestic and foreign policy more broadly are heartening. To leave out the fundamental reality that Palestinians face, however, is out of touch,” the Thursday statement continued.

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