Ahead of party convention, party doubles down on Jerusalem, offers implicit criticism of Obama administration

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gazes at the audience following a standing ovation during his speech at Westin Town Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on Monday, July 11, 2016. (Kristen Zeis/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gazes at the audience following a standing ovation during his speech at Westin Town Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on Monday, July 11, 2016. (Kristen Zeis/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)


WASHINGTON – The Republican Party platform committee held its first meeting Monday in Cleveland in advance of the party’s nominating convention, reviewing a draft platform that doubled down on the party’s support for Israel, while avoiding explicit support for a two-state solution.

The draft platform restores language recognizing Jerusalem “as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state,” as well as explicitly calling for the American embassy “to be moved there in fulfillment of US law.”

The change marked a dramatic departure from the wording of the 2012 platform, which did not discuss the indivisibility of Jerusalem or any move to enforce the embassy legislation – which has been in place for over a decade.

The platform draft seemed to roll back recognition of Palestinian nationhood, with key clauses neglecting mention of two states for two peoples. The 2012 platform stressed that the party supported “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states — Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine — living in peace and security.”

On Monday, CNN reported, the subcommittee reviewing the platform specifically rejected language affirming the party’s commitment to what is known as the two-state solution.

This distinction was further strengthened where the draft echoed a sentence used in 2012 – that “the US seeks a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, negotiated between the parties themselves with the assistance of the US, without the imposition of an artificial timetable. Essential to that process will be a just, fair, and realistic framework for dealing with the issues that can be settled on the basis of mutually agreed changes reflecting today’s realities as well as tomorrow’s hopes.”

In the 2016 draft, the same sentence – that “the US seeks to assist in the establishment of comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East” – described the process as one “to be negotiated among those living in the region.”

While perhaps offering a nod to Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s emphasis on scaling back some US overseas involvement, the draft seems to favor an approach that would accommodate additional regional actors.

The 2016 draft also warns that the party “oppose[s] any measures intended to impose an agreement or to dictate borders or other terms, and call for the immediate termination of all US funding of any entity that attempts to do so” – a possible reference to repeated attempts by the Palestinian Authority to introduce and pass resolutions regarding the conflict in the United Nations.

The 2016 draft also stressed that “our party is proud to stand with Israel now and always” – a statement entirely absent from the 2012 platform.

In addition, the draft includes language condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, describing it as an “alternative form of warfare” and emphasizing that the party “reject[s] the false notion that Israel is an occupier, and specifically recognize[s] that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (‘BDS’) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel.” The draft went on to call for legislation “to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”

While some anti-BDS initiatives have gained traction in Congress, the current administration has expressed reluctance regarding clauses that include “Israeli-controlled territories,” with leftist groups arguing that such language normalizes Israel’s presence in areas Israel conquered in 1967, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights.

Many of the changes to the platform language seemed to reflect either a tightening of the party line regarding support for Israel, or an implicit criticism of the current administration that may signal a desire to use a fight over Israel policy as ammunition in the 2016 election campaign.

The 2012 Republican Platform included a section entitled “Our Unequivocal Support of Israel” which, like the 2016 draft platform, began by affirming close ties between Israel and the US on the basis of shared democratic traditions.

While the 2012 platform noted that both states “are part of the great fellowship of democracies who speak the same language of freedom and justice, and the right of every person to live in peace,” the draft platform for 2016 expands upon the theme, stressing that “like the United States of America, the modern state of Israel is a country born from the aspiration for freedom, and standing out among the nations as a beacon of democracy and humanity.”

The previous platform went on to note that the “security of Israel is in the vital national security interest of the United States; our alliance is based not only on shared interests, but also shared values.” This year’s draft platform seemed to move the focus away from shared strategic interests as the basis of the relationship.

“Beyond our mutual strategic interests, Israel is likewise an exceptional country that shares our most essential values. It is the only country in the Middle East where freedom of speech and freedom of religion are found,” the draft reads. “Therefore, support for Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.”

The last line was likely an implicit reference to President Barack Obama, who reportedly said in a closed-door meeting with US Jewish leaders in 2009 that under former president George W. Bush “there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.”

In 2012, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney picked up on the line, railing against Obama’s policies during an election speech at the Virginia Military Institute.

“The president explicitly stated that his goal was to put ‘daylight’ between the United States and Israel. And he has succeeded,” Romney said. “This is a dangerous situation that has set back the hope of peace in the Middle East and emboldened our mutual adversaries, especially Iran.”

J Street issued a memo Monday as the platform drafting committee held its Cleveland meeting, expressing concern that “there are those in the Republican Party who seek to change the platform, moving away from the two-state solution toward policies that would embolden those in Israel who seek to annex all or part of the West Bank.”

The dovish group noted that “since the Republican platform of 2004, which stated, ‘We support President Bush’s vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,’ the Republican Party has recognized that the way to achieve this is through the two-state solution.”

J Street offered committee members its own suggestion for what it described as a balanced, pro-Israel platform.”

Such a platform, J Street suggested, would state the party’s commitment to “Israel’s security and recognition as the national homeland of the Jewish people and their right to a normal life free from terror and incitement” as well as “to ensuring that Palestinians can govern themselves in their own state, in peace and dignity, pursuant to a negotiated, conflict-ending agreement with Israel.

“The Party should expressly acknowledge that only a two-state solution can provide Palestinians independence, sovereignty and dignity while providing Israelis the secure and recognized borders of a democratic Jewish state,” the memo stressed.

The group also called on the Republican platform committee to affirm its opposition to “settlement construction and expansion over the Green Line” and its support for the US and international allies’ role in reaching a two-state solution.”

Jerusalem, J Street argued, should be recognized as Israel’s capital, but the group also called for “Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem” to be recognized “as the capital of a Palestinian state, with precise arrangements to be reached in negotiations.”

J Street’s memo dovetailed with the draft platform in its call to oppose the BDS movement, which J Street argued “fails to recognize Israel’s right to exist, does not support a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and works against not just the occupation but the state of Israel itself.”

J Street argued, however, that “the most effective way to counter the BDS Movement is to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that ends Israel’s occupation of the territory it won in 1967 and results in an independent Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace and security.”

J Street was not the only group to push for specific changes in the platform regarding Israel. The final platform will be presented next week, as the Republican Party convenes its national nominating convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

Christians United for Israel, a right-wing group which boasts some 1.6 million members and defines itself as “a national grassroots movement focused on the support of Israel,” backed the current language on Jerusalem, as well as the description of the BDS movement as “anti-Semitic.”

“We’re proud of our efforts to secure platform language recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital and attacking BDS for the anti-Semitic movement that it is,” said CUFI executive director David Brog.

Brog criticized the J Street memo, saying “J Street should spend less time criticizing our efforts and more time emulating them. If they did a better job with their supposed base we might not face the spectacle of Democratic conventions booing mention of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and almost labeling Israel an “occupier.”

Supporters of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton staved off a push by runner-up Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to include language criticizing Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank. The Democratic platform committee held its final meetings over the weekend, approving a platform that also condemned BDS, but offered explicit support for a two-state solution.

The National Jewish Democratic Council accused the Republican platform committee of tone-deafness and trying to “over compensate” on Israel.

“When it comes to Republican rhetoric on Israel, they can’t even find themselves to be inline with the rhetoric of the prime minister of Israel when it comes to a two state solution,” the organization responded in a statement.

“But as the GOP platform over compensates to the right on Israel, the Republican nominee still has a less than impressive pro-Israel record. As they antagonize the Jewish left and the Jewish right at the same time, Trump and the GOP have quite an unproductive marriage — at least in our community.”

As reported by The Times of Israel