Tussle over Israel language in Democrats’ platform largely settled

Sanders’ surrogates fought to include reference to "occupation."

June 26, 2016 16:37
2 minute read.

US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks with media and supporters during his visit to the Vatican , April 15, 2016. . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – After engaging in an argument behind closed doors in St. Louis over the weekend, members of the Democratic Party’s platform committee have reached a preliminary agreement not to include reference to the state’s “occupation” of or “settlement activity” in Palestinian lands.

That does not mean the fight over Israel language in this year’s DNC platform is over, however: The St. Louis meeting, attended by several committee members appointed by presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton and her chief primary rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is only one of several negotiations. And Sanders’ team on Sunday said that it plans to continue the fight.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and a Sanders appointee, proposed the platform include a call for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements.” The language, which was approved by Sanders himself, was ultimately voted down by the committee 8-5.

But the Associated Press reported on Saturday night that Clinton’s team agreed to include language recognizing Palestinian aspirations of “independence, sovereignty, and dignity” – a first for the platform, hailed by the Sanders camp as a victory.

J Street – an organization which primarily lobbies for a two-state solution– also lauded the “more balanced approach” in a press release. The J Street statement suggests its leadership is satisfied with the development. And given the group’s role in shaping Democratic Party policy on Israel, their satisfaction with the outcome in St. Louis makes additional fights before the convention less likely.

Platforms are meant to be inspirational, non-binding policy declarations reflecting the will of their party at a given moment in time. But they are also practical documents – messages to voters in an election year. And while Sanders is fighting for the most progressive platform for the party to date, Clinton’s aides are working toward a document that does her no harm in the general election against Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump.

Sources close to the Clinton campaign tell The Jerusalem Post that the St. Louis talks were heated – but that they expect the fight is largely over, now that language has been agreed on recognizing Palestinian dignity. And Jake Sullivan, a foreign policy adviser to Clinton, told the Post that the party platform will reflect her views, “which are well-known.”

Sanders did not push back against the characterization that he had “lost” the battle, for now, in an interview to CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday.

Tapper told Sanders that his appointees had failed to secure fresh, sharp language on the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, which the Jewish presidential candidate had previously advocated for.

Tapper “captured exactly what happened in St. Louis,” Sanders said in response. “We lost some very important fights. We’re going to take that fight to Orlando, where the entire committee meets in two weeks.”

Sanders then listed his priorities – specifically on climate change, raising the minimum wage and other domestic issues – without reiterating his policies on Middle East peace.

The Democratic National Convention will be held in Philadelphia at the end of July.

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