Democrats should redefine their support for Israel in Middle East

Democrats should redefine their support for Israel in Middle East
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE has unveiled his long awaited Middle East peace plan, which he says seeks to reconcile generations of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. While the plan proposes a two state solution, allowing for the formation of a Palestinian state that consists of areas of the West Bank and Gaza, it controversially recognizes Israeli sovereignty over their settlements in disputed territory. Under this vision, Jerusalem would also be recognized as the undivided capital of Israel, a move that likely makes the White House plan untenable given the history of dispute on the issue, and Palestinians would be limited to specific areas of eastern Jerusalem.

The terms of the plan will be difficult for Palestinians to accept, and there are enduring obstacles that will likely prevent this deal from materializing. The plan represents a departure from past American efforts that involved pursuing a negotiated peace process where both Israel and Palestine are involved and make significant concessions to create new territorial lines on the map. Further complicating matters, following the release of the plan, Israeli officials announced that they plan to annex all West Bank settlements next week, which would further complicate negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians over the next phase of the new plan.

The timing of the White House plan is also critical, given that both the American and Israeli leaders have entered an election year marred in scandal, with Trump facing impeachment and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing indictment, and teetering on the edge in most polls. Ultimately, it is clear that much of the plan will not be recognized by the Palestinian state, and the circumstances around the rollout have been criticized as being politically advantageous for Trump and Netanyahu.


However, there are significant implications in this matter for both Trump and Democrats heading into the election. Most significantly, Democrats must be cognizant that Trump has fully taken the issue of United States support for Israel, a stance that Democrats once dominated, and turned it into a partisan wedge issue. Now that the issue of Middle East peace has been propelled to the forefront of the national conversation, Democrats must take this opportunity to reframe and enhance their stance on Israel.

Indeed, Democrats were historically the political party in favor of Israel. President Truman recognized the Jewish state after its independence in 1948. Then in 1972, the convention that nominated George McGovern also ratified the first major platform to support moving the American embassy to Jerusalem. Republicans did not follow suit until 1996. Now Democratic leaders are the likes of Senator Bernie Sanders, who easily qualifies as the most critical of Israel of all the Democratic candidates, and in 2016 had even accused Israel of being “indiscriminate” in attacks against “civilian areas” when defending itself against rockets fired by terrorists from Gaza.

Since the plan was announced by the White House last week, Democrats have delivered mixed responses to it. On the one hand, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: McConnell says he would give Trump-backed coronavirus deal a Senate vote | Pelosi, Mnuchin see progress, but no breakthrough | Trump, House lawyers return to court in fight over financial records Progress, but no breakthrough, on coronavirus relief McConnell says he would give Trump-backed coronavirus deal a vote in Senate MORE appeared cautiously optimistic. “On the first read of these two pages, there appears to be a basis for negotiations,” Pelosi declared. “So let us be optimistic and hopeful, and let us pray for peace.” On the other hand, several Democrats on the campaign trail have rebuked the new plan, with Senator Elizabeth Warren going so far as to call it a sham.

There has been a surge in support for Israel among Republicans over the past several decades, according to an annual survey by Gallup. In 2001, 59 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Democrats sided with Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians. As of last year, however, that figure is dramatically higher for Republicans at 76 percent, and only slightly more for Democrats at 43 percent. A large factor at play has been bias among Democrats against Netanyahu, which has become more entrenched as he and Trump have cemented themselves as partners. This has cultivated a more aggressive culture against Israel within the party that has unveiled numerous problematic statements by some lawmakers from the far left.

Now that the peace plan is at the center of the conversation, Democrats should make clear that no matter who leads the nation of Israel, they will unconditionally support our strongest ally in the Middle East and prioritize peace negotiations. Democrats will need to work on a stronger consensus within the party about the systemic cultural shift among its members, and redefine the link between civil rights and support for Israel as a response to discrimination, which used to be the bedrock of Democratic politics. The importance of the relationship between the United States and Israel cannot be understated. It is time for Democrats to unite as a party and prioritize their platform toward one of our most crucial American allies.

Douglas Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) is adviser to President Bill Clinton and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He is the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”