WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton will ensure that the Democratic Party Platform slated to be approved at the party convention next month will be supportive of the State of Israel, Wendy Sherman, a former top State Department official and member of the committee that drafts the platform, told The Jerusalem Post this week.
“I am sure the Democratic Party Platform will reflect longstanding, strong support for Israel,” she said. Sherman, who was the Obama administration’s chief negotiator in the Iran nuclear negotiations, added: “Secretary Clinton’s views in support of Israel’s security and an unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel are well known.”
Her comments came amid growing concern in Israel and within the American Jewish community that Sen. Bernie Sanders’s appointments to the committee – including vocal critics of Israel like Cornel West, a known Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement supporter, James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, and Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), the first Muslim elected to Congress – would steer the platform’s language in a direction that Jerusalem views as potentially harmful for Israel.
Clinton was given six appointees to the committee while Sanders received five. The Democratic National Committee appointed four.
Sherman pointed to a speech Clinton delivered at the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum for clues about how she would craft the language on the conflict.
“As she said in her Saban speech earlier this year, ‘only a two-state solution can provide Palestinians independence, sovereignty and dignity and provide Israelis the secure and recognized borders of a democratic Jewish state,’” Sherman said. “She went on to say, ‘Israelis deserve security, recognition and a normal life free from terror. And, Palestinians should be able to govern themselves in their own state, in peace and dignity.’”
Jake Sullivan, a senior foreign policy adviser to Clinton, also said he expected the platform would reflect Clinton’s views.
“Hillary Clinton’s views on Israel and the US-Israel relationship are well documented,” he said. “And she’s confident that her delegates will work to ensure that the party platform reflects them.”
Any internal debate over language on Israel will likely be marginal and pertain to the use of three particularly contentious terms: “Israeli occupation,” “direct negotiations” and “continued settlement activity.” None of these phrases have been used in past Democratic platforms, which are aspirational, non-binding documents that reflect the will of the party at distinct moments in time.
In its 2008 and 2012 documents, the DNC expressed broad support for Israeli- Palestinian peace – involving “final status” negotiations leading to a “just and lasting” accord that “helps sustain Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Then and now, members of the party’s liberal base have called for tougher talk on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, with explicit references to settlements and to America’s role in reigniting an urgently needed peace process.
But neither primary candidate – Clinton and Sanders – is keen on fighting to change that language, according to senior foreign policy aides in both camps. And both question the practical, political value of a battle over Israel toward winning general election support for the party’s eventual nominee.
Democratic establishment figures worry that a tougher stance on Israel may weaken their chances of winning over Jewish “persuadables” – not Jewish voters generally, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic and consider Israel relatively low on their list of voter priorities. Their question is whether Sanders’s picks will feed into a longstanding Republican narrative that the Democratic base is anti-Israel, and serve to discourage Jewish swing voters in critical states such as Florida.
“It’s not simply a reflection of the Democratic Party’s base. It also has to be a practical document that doesn’t hurt the chances of the nominee come November,” said one Democrat close to the platform committee. “It has to do no harm, and the most well-written words and best intentions mean nothing if they get Donald Trump elected.”
One Democrat close to Sanders’s camp and involved in the discussions told the Post last week that use of the term “occupation” in the platform is “highly doubtful.”
But the senator’s foreign policy team is likely to push for a reference to US opposition to continued Israeli settlement construction, a longstanding and nonpartisan State Department position shared by Clinton.
While Sanders himself is reportedly disinclined to fight, his staff believes their success in elevating the issue of Palestinian dignity during the primary campaign amounts to their greatest foreign policy success. They hope to solidify that achievement by tweaking the platform’s language.
Sanders, who himself is Jewish and has lived in Israel, has repeatedly called for a “more balanced” approach to the decadesold conflict. But the policy gap between Clinton and Sanders may amount to rhetoric: Both pledge their support for Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, and ultimately to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“When it comes to the fight against BDS, there’s strong agreement,” said Aaron Keyak, a Washington-based consultant for Jewish, pro-Israel and progressive groups.
“Secretary Clinton has been an outspoken critic and leader in combating BDS, and Senator Sanders has come out against BDS and believes that anti-Semitism is a driver of the movement.”
Should West, Zogby or Ellison choose to push for harsher language in committee discussions, they will have to negotiate with Sherman.
Neither Sherman nor Sullivan spoke of using the term “settlements.” But language that may prove even more relevant this year is any reference to the necessity of direct negotiations between the two sides, given the number of international efforts under way to outline parameters for a twostate solution.
Clinton opposes any effort in international bodies, including in the United Nations Security Council, to impose terms for peace “from without.” The Obama administration has not yet explicitly ruled out support for such initiatives, as presidents have done in the past, amid efforts by France and the Palestinian Authority to draft Security Council resolutions on the matter.
Party platforms are largely inspirational documents – snapshots of moments in time as political parties evolve and shift positions. They are rarely cited in holding a president or other party members to account once they are elected.
“This process is raising issues which are generally not so broadly discussed in the American electorate, and I think the press has overblown all of this,” commented Mel Levine, a former Democratic congressman from California who remains active in the party’s foreign policy circles. “I am confident that a balanced result will be achieved which is consistent with traditional bipartisan US policy,” he added.