News that allies of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have been trawling for votes in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank demonstrates the growing ties between the Republican Party and the Israeli settler movement which threatens to destroy three decades of bipartisan foreign policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.
Republican activists have already opened one office in the settlement of Karnei Shomron and others will soon open a branch in another settlement, Efrat. The group has enlisted a Israeli campaign operative, Tzvika Brot, who previously worked for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and claims it will have more than 100 volunteers working the phones, passing out fliers, targeting voters through social media and advising Americans on voter registration. It seems ironic to note how organized Trump is in the West Bank in light of news reports about the poor state of his field operations in key swing states back home.
Nobody should be concerned that Trump -- or for that matter Hillary Clinton -- is campaigning for the support of Americans living overseas who have a constitutional right to vote. But we should be concerned that a crucial plank of our bipartisan foreign policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to be falling apart.
The Republican Party has an honorable tradition of pressing for a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush made valiant efforts in this regard and registered important successes. The elder Bush convened the Madrid Middle East peace conference in 1991 and his son in 2008 became the first US President to visit the Palestinian city of Ramallah, headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. On that trip, Bush explicitly called for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Contrast that with the Republican Party platform formally adopted in July, which specifically rejected the notion that Israel's presence in the West Bank was an occupation and dropped support for a two-state peace deal with the Palestinians. The new platform brings the party closer to the settler movement which aims to colonize most of the West Bank with the aim that it will eventually be annexed to form a "Greater Israel."
One of Trump's main Israel advisers, David Friedman, who heads an organization that raises money to support the West Bank settlement of Beth El, told the Jerusalem Post in an interview that a one-state solution was a viable option for ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He added that a Trump administration might view an Israeli annexation of West Bank settlement as legitimate.
It's not known exactly how many U.S. citizens live in Israel -- estimates range from 150,000 to 300,000 -- much less how many of them are settlers. Also unknown is the number registered to vote in the United States or how they divide between the two major parties. But the political effect of the pro-settler voter drive is unlikely to have much practical effect on the presidential election itself since most Americans in Israel hail from states like New York, New Jersey and California which are reliably Democratic -- and relatively few come from swing states like Florida and Ohio.
American Jews traditionally give between 70 and 80 percent of their votes to Democrats in presidential elections and have done so for many decades. Efforts by previous candidates like Mitt Romney to drive a wedge between the American Jewish community and the Democratic Party over the Israel issue have failed miserably.
This year, American Jews may vote even more resoundingly for Hillary Clinton. Trump has alienated many with his stances on Muslims, immigrants, gays and women and his campaign has seemed ready to flirt with far-right forces seen as anti-Semitic. Even some very prominent Republican Jewish donors and bundlers, who gave tens of millions of dollars to previous GOP nominees, have withheld support for the Trump campaign this year.
Once the election is over, we must hope that the Republican Party returns to its reasonable roots in its dealings with Israel and the Palestinians and that Trump's flirtation with Israeli settlers and ultra-nationalists will be viewed as an unfortunate aberration.