Despite some changes, Democratic Party platform no cause for concern

The term special relationship to define the Israeli-US ties – a feature in the platforms of 2000, 2004 and 2008, does not appear in this year’s platform.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden at the 11th Democratic candidates debate of the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign in Washington, March 15, 2020 (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden at the 11th Democratic candidates debate of the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign in Washington, March 15, 2020
(photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
If the 2020 Democratic Party platform is an indication, reports of the party’s stand on Israel being hijacked by the Progressive wing of the party have been greatly exaggerated.
Like the party’s platform over the last 20 years, this year’s document – adopted on Monday in a virtual conference in advance of next month’s Democratic National Convention – says that a “strong, secure and democratic Israel is vital” to US interests, commits the party to upholding the Jewish state’s “qualitative military edge,” and declares that Jerusalem should remain Israel’s capital, “an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”
In the internal battle taking place inside the party regarding support for Israel – a battle that came out into the open during the primary season when leading candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren indicated that military aid to Israel could be used as leverage, and as radical anti-Israel Jewish groups ambushed candidates with provocative questions trying to get a sound-byte critical of Israel – the “moderates” continue to hold the upper hand.
In fact, despite all the attention garnered by the very critical positions on Israel expressed by Democrats such as Sanders, Warren, Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the progressives took a drubbing in their efforts to inject more critical language of Israel in the platform.
By a vote of 117-34, the party’s platform committee rejected an amendment proposed by a Sanders delegate to condition aid to Israel if it goes ahead with annexation, would have added the word “occupation” into the few lines dealing with Israel, and would have said that the party opposes settlements, rather than the language agreed upon which states that the party opposes “settlement expansion.”
As Yair Lapid said in an i24 interview on Monday, “I read the new Democratic platform. I don’t agree with everything, but if anything it is the triumph of the moderates in the Democratic party. I was worried about the more radical Progressive voices that have said a few things that worried me in terms of Israel.”
That being said, it is interesting to compare this platform with the five other party platforms over the last 20 years to see subtle changes that have crept in, reflecting changes that are taking place inside the party and in its attitude toward Israel.
Although platforms are non-binding, they do give a glimpse of the party’s positions on a wide range of issues and are meant as practical document to let voters know where they stand. This platform, to be ratified at the convention in Milwaukee which, as a result of corona, will be scaled down and is expected to nominate Joe Biden as the party’s presidential candidate.

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
The term special relationship to define the Israeli-US ties – a feature in the platforms of 2000, 2004 and 2008, does not appear in this year’s platform.
“Our special relationship with Israel is based on the unshakable foundation of shared values and a mutual commitment to democracy,” read the 2000 platform. This year’s language: “Democrats believe a strong, secure, and democratic Israel is vital to the interests of the United States.”
References to a “special relationship” have been absent in the platform since Barack Obama’s second presidential campaign in 2012.
This is also the first of six platforms since 2000 where there is no mention of “shared values,” once a phrase always used in describing the relationship between the two countries.
Nonetheless, the platform – like the other five before it going back to 2000 –  pledges to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge, and states that the party’s commitment to the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding, which provides Israel with some $3.8 billion annually in military assistance over a decade, is “ironclad.”

UNILATERAL ACTIONS
With the possibility of Israel extending sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria very much on the agenda, this year’s platform states that “Democrats oppose any unilateral steps by either side – including annexation – that undermine prospects for two states.”
This is not the first time the party platform has come out against unilateral actions. It did so in the 2000 platform as well, when Al Gore ran against George Bush. Then, too, the party opposed one-sided steps, but the focus that time was on the Palestinians.
“We call on both parties to avoid unilateral actions, such as a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, that will prejudge the outcome of negotiations, and we urge the parties to adhere to their joint pledge to resolve all differences only by good faith negotiations,” the platform said then.

SETTLEMENTS
Though the platform committee voted down an amendment opposing settlements, this is the first time since 2000 that the settlements appear at all. “We oppose settlement expansion,” the document reads.
Unlike other platforms – such as the one that accompanied Obama’s first campaign in 2008 – this platform does not say that Israel is not expected to withdraw to the 1949 Armistice Lines.
The 2004 platform, when John Kerry was running against Bush, read: “It is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” This phrase was borrowed from the letter Bush wrote to Ariel Sharon earlier that year in the context of Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
That language about not expecting Israel to return fully to the 1949 Armistice Lines also appeared in the 2008 platform, but has not been repeated since.

PALESTINIAN STATE
The first mention of a Palestinian state in a Democratic party platform appeared in Kerry’s 2004 platform: “We support the creation of a democratic Palestinian state dedicated to living in peace and security side by side with the Jewish State of Israel. The creation of a Palestinian state should resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees by allowing them to settle there, rather than in Israel.
This year’s version: “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.”

BDS
Since the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is relatively new, any reference to it did not appear until 2012, when – in Obama’s race against Mitt Romney, this phrased appeared in the documents: “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.”
In 2016, the party platform clearly came out against BDS, saying that the party opposes “any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.”
That unequivocal opposition became more equivocal this time around, reflecting the debate in the US over whether rejecting BDS is a violation of free speech.
“We oppose 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 document read.