One or Two States: The Democratic Party Platform

Given the brouhaha resulting from Peter Beinart’s shift to supporting a one-state solution, I want to set that proposal first within the context of the Democratic Party policy platform rather than Trump’s strong partisan support for advancing the right wing agenda in Israel. In the next blog, I will then turn to discuss Palestinian progressive voices on the issue before I deal directly with the views of progressive Jews.

In three paragraphs on Israel in the 2020 draft platform of the Democratic National Committee of 15 July 2020 and released on 23 July, the U.S. Democratic Party took a tiny step to assuage the convictions of its progressive wing. The draft platform was approved yesterday on the 27th of July by the full platform committee of 187 members. The amendment to include a reference to “occupation,” that is, formally recognizing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, failed. The vote was 34 for the amendment and 117 opposed.

The 2020 platform specifically includes support for a “two-state” solution. “We support a negotiated two-state solution that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state with recognized borders and upholds the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.’

The 1916 platform endorsed security funding for Israel. The 2020 program supports $3.6 billion in annual aid to Israel. “Democrats believe a strong, secure, and democratic Israel is vital to the interests of the United States. Our commitment to Israel’s security, its qualitative military edge, its right to defend itself, and the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding is ironclad.” Progressives wanted military aid made conditional on the cessation of settlement activity, but they did not succeed in amending this proposition. There is no mention of conditionality or consequences that would follow the infringement of Palestinian human rights.

The 1920 platform more explicitly opposes annexation, as requested by former US national security officials, but provides no penalties to be imposed if Israel took such an initiative. The 2020 platform opposes “unilateral steps by either side — including annexation — that undermine prospects for two states.” What if a partial annexation takes place that is accompanied with a link to support a Palestinian state (perhaps very truncated) alongside Israel? U.S. goals in the region remain amorphous without indicating in any concrete way how they can be achieved or imposing conditions on the parties for negotiating a settlement even though polls show 56% of Americans support conditionality.

The 2016 program included a ritual condemnation of settlement expansion. So does the 2020 platform even as expansion continued steadily between 2016 and 2020 and in the decades prior when expansion of settlements was repeatedly opposed. However, on this issue, the progressives made a gain in branding the settlement expansion as “illegal under international law.” This is contrary to the position of Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo who announced that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are no longer considered to be in breach of international law. In the Democratic Party platform, the opposition to settlements was “balanced” by an opposition to “incitement and terror” as well.

The 2016 platform opposed BDS, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign led by Palestinians. So does the 2020 platform. It opposes “any effort to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, while protecting the constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.” The last conditional clause is an addition to the previous phrasing in the 2016 platform.

The 2016 platform included a reference to the defence of Palestinian human rights. The 2020 platform is much more expansive in supporting Palestinian rights to a state of their own, that is to collective as well as individual rights. Further, the draft platform aspires to restore US-Palestinian diplomatic relations and renew financial assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Trump Administration ended almost all forms of aid to the Palestinians.

The 2016 platform did not follow J Street’s recommendation to include recognition of Palestinian claims to Jerusalem. The 2020 platform draft reads: “We believe that while Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided (my italics) city accessible to people of all faiths.” Trump’s initiative recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to Jerusalem will not be reversed if Joe Biden wins the presidency.

The 2020 platform did not follow J Street’s recommendation to include a reference to occupation. Instead, it reiterated the 2016 platform with the same omission. Though J Street will continue to lobby for its inclusion at the convention, there is virtually no chance of success.

As with the rest of the Democratic Party platform, the progressives on many issues were only able to attain very minor gains. They even failed to get support for the widespread favoured legalization of cannabis. On other issues, the changes were more radical; they did get support for Medicare for All. However, with respect to the paragraphs on Israel, there were no equivalent large successes as there were on the medical insurance issue.

What is clear is that, excepting a few rhetorical gestures towards the progressive position, the Democratic Party remains firmly in the liberal camp based on the following key policies:

  • support for a “two-state” solution
  • a commitment to the security of Israel
  • support for an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel
  • a commitment to the human and collective rights of Palestinians
  • restoration of US-Palestinian diplomatic relations
  • renewal of financial assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza
  • opposition to expanding settlements
  • defining Israeli settlement activity to be in breach of international law
  • opposition to annexation
  • opposition to Palestinian incitement and terror
  • opposition to the BDS movement

All proposals implicitly include:

  • the safeguarding of Jerusalem (and other?) holy sites
  • continuation of the Jordanian administration of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif complex

Note, just as support for a one-state solution and for a confederation, support for a two-state solution has many iterations. The traditional one was support for two states with the Green Line of 1967 as the dividing line, modified by equivalent mutually agreed upon land swaps to retain, in rough terms, the proportionate division of the land into 78% Israeli and 22% Palestinian. Various previous Israeli proposals envisioned Israel annexing the large settlement blocks resulting in only 11-19% of the West Bank land going to the Palestinians, depending on the plan on offer. The Trump Plan (Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People) was also a two-state solution, but with the Israelis getting even a greater percentage of the West Bank – roughly 85% of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Though this would double the land under the administration of the Palestinian Authority compared to Oslo, Palestinians would end up with only 15% of the land.

The proposed Palestinian state would be demilitarized. Virtually all Jewish Israelis now living in Greater Jerusalem (200,000) and in the West Bank (450,000) would fall under the authority of the Israeli government. That would include 17 Jewish enclaves that would be surrounded by the Palestinian state. (26 Palestinian enclaves would be surrounded by the Israeli state.) Israel’s borders would expand from 366 km. to 1191 km., posing a significant problem for the IDF and the Israeli border guards. The border would be three times the length of the Lebanese, Jordanian and Egyptian borders combined. 150,000 of the three million Palestinians in the West Bank would have to be given Israeli citizenship. Numerous separate access roads to enclaves would have to be constructed. Palestine as a state would exist as about six contiguous clumps centred on Gaza and the major cities in the West Bank (Jericho, Jenin and Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron, Jerusalem). Only 7% of Jerusalem would be assigned to the Palestinian state and Palestine could have Abu Dis, a section of East Jerusalem on the other side of the barrier wall, as its capital.

There are clearly a variety of iterations of this division into two states varying primarily by the percentage of land going to either side. Any clear-eyed analysis of the Trump plan would conclude that it is unworkable, quite aside from being totally unacceptable to any Palestinian faction as well as a good part, though not a majority, of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem who favour a one-state solution. Abbas completely rejected the Trump Plan stating, “Jerusalem is not for sale, all our rights are not for sale and are not up for bargaining.” Hamas was even more scathing in its denunciation.

The Trump plan, contrary to the advertisements for itself, is not a viable path to Palestinian statehood. There is no realistic two-state solution on offer acceptable to both sides. Given the large numbers of Jewish settlers and the position of the Palestinians as well as a majority of Israelis at the present time, the traditional version of the two-state solution encompassed by the Democratic Party platform is equally unrealistic. Hence, the widespread declaration that the two-sate solution is dead. Nevertheless, its ghost haunts international diplomacy as well as both Israeli and Palestinian political discourse. Is there an alternative to the dream of a peaceful, democratic and demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel?


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