Thursday, September 6, 2012

Israel, Jerusalem and the Democratic Platform

I will be live blogging again tonight. But first I want to address one of the most talked about issues at the convention by the American media. That is the decision by the Democratic Party to omit the statement that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel from their platform. Slightly less noticable was the further omission of the position that the right of return for Palestinian refugees to what is now inside Israel is an unrealistic goal for the Palestinians. Both positions were part of the Democratic platform in 2008.

So let's look at what the platform actually did say.

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.
My first thought when this story broke was, well did they deliberately leave Jerusalem out or have the Democrats just phrased their support for Israel in a different way which doesn't mention the capital. In other words, is the above platform an actual watering down of the democratic parties support of Israel. Most people would think not given the unequivicol pro Israeli language in the document. But the omission of Jerusalem can hardly be irrelevant. Reports in the media today suggest that within the Obama administration there is a faction that are lobbying for the US to soften its stance on Israel. Obama is apparently not in this faction and the fact that he personally intervened at the convention yesterday to have Jerusalem's status re-inserted would certainly indicate as much. It is unlikely that when the platform was being drawn up that Obama himself had much imput.
My view on this as an Israeli supporter but not an ideological zionist is that Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees have no place on the political platform of any US party. I understand that in the event of the peace process moving forward Israel will likely win on both of these issues, particularly Palestinian refugees because we all know that millions of Palestinians being permitted entry into Israel is a non runner. The Palestinians are not likely to get a chunk of Jerusalem either but who knows where negotiatiations might lead both parties. But I don't see why the US is required to have such a staunch position on an issue that is between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Any settlement between the two will always be about Israeli security. If Israel were to get a guarantee that satisfied their demands it might be possible for Jerusalem to end up back on the table. Unlikely some would say, but stranger things have certainly happened in the history of conflict resolution.  
I do not wish to trivialise this incident. It was careless by the Democratic Party to let this happen. Not least because the Israelis do not need this. We may in fact be living in a time that is as threatening to the Jewish people as the era of Nazism. It is difficult to tell becasue the Iranian threat is largely covert but make no mistake, it is quite possible that the Iranian regime might soon have the capability as well as the will to launch a nuclear attack against the tiny country of Israel inflicting a second holocaust on the Jewish people in 70 years. It is no time for Israel's strongest ally to go soft. While I may question the need specifically for the status of Jerusalem and the right of return to be on the Democratic Party platform I do not question the need for Israel to know that it can rely on its strongest ally in a time of perill. I hope I am not confusing people by saying that there is no need to have such things on the Democratic platform and then saying that leaving it out is a snub to Israel. What I am saying is that if it was a genuine snub, it couldn't have come at a worse time for Israel.
Was this a big mistake by the Democrats that might affect the election? Ordinarily I would say no as the Jewish vote in the US is actually very small and largely vote democrat anyway. However the state of Florida has a large Jewish population. There seems to be a tradition of elderly Jewish people retiring there. Florida is a unique electoral state in that it is the only one in the union with a large number of electoral college votes (27) that could go either way in the election. For example Texas (34) always goes Republican and california (55) Democratic but Florida could go either way making it the most crucial state in the union. The Jewish vote could be essential to swinging it one way or another in Florida. This oversight or deliberate snub could have serious consequences in November.
Perhaps Alan Dershowitz, the most prominant liberal supporter of Israel in America can answer what this means better. Here he is yesterday on Fox News discussing the controversy.

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