(CNSNews.com) – Two Democratic lawmakers told a liberal Jewish conference on Monday they support the inclusion in the 2020 party platform of language on Israeli “occupation” of territories claimed by the Palestinians.
One of them also argued that their party has not shifted on the Israeli-Palestinian issue; rather the Republicans have veered away from what he suggested used to be the “mainstream” position.
Speaking at the J Street national conference gala dinner in Washington, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) expressed strong support for the idea – now being actively championed by J Street – of inserting opposition to “occupation” in the platform.
“I think it’s essential,” she said to cheers. “I think we have to take it on. We have to take it on strongly.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) gave a more nuanced response, saying he would like the platform to reaffirm “our strong support for Israel and its security,” lay out support for a “two-state solution” – and why it is necessary – and in that context make clear “that we will oppose any expansion of settlements, and that we do support negotiations to end the occupation.”
“I completely agree with what the senator said,” Jayapal interjected. “I would just say I think it has to be – the last piece that you got to I think has to be a strong condemnation of the occupation.”
J Street calls itself a “pro-Israel and pro-peace” lobbying group. It is vocally opposed to the policies of the Trump administration and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government in Israel.
Moderating the conversation, Forward editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren asked the lawmakers whether there has been a shift in support for Israel as a bipartisan issue.
“Most people in this room have been in the same place on these issues for the last ten to fifteen years,” Van Hollen said. “I know I have.”
He said support for a two-state solution in the Middle East has been bipartisan for years, since it became policy under the George W. Bush administration.
“What’s happened, the goalposts have been changed, from the right-wing politics in Israel and the Trump administration,” Van Hollen said. “So, when you say ‘bipartisan,’ I would welcome my Republican colleagues to come back to where they were, just four or five years ago.”
“Other administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, have been willing to use some of the leverage of U.S. policy,” he said, recalling as an example past threats to withhold loan guarantees from Israel.
“So what’s changed here, let’s make no mistake, is Republicans have taken this conversation way off the rails, following the rightward, hard-right drift of the Netanyahu government.”
“We’re going to have to try and bring our Republican colleagues back”
Jayapal, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, spoke of trying to persuade House Republicans to back a resolution supporting a two-state solution – “to say to our Republican colleagues, ‘this is a position you have taken, we have taken together, and we would like you to take it again, because it is important to do so.’”
(H.Res.326 has 192 co-sponsors, all Democrats.)
Rudoren asked Van Hollen and Jayapal how they account for a shift in Americans’ attitudes regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
“What is, sort of, permissible, or acceptable for a Democrat to say today that maybe wasn’t when you were first elected, in a district that had a lot of Israel activity in it, and why?” she asked Van Hollen, who began serving in the House in 2003, and has been in the Senate since 2017.
He credited J Street’s advocacy, but said that its work coincided with “a very hard-right turn within Israeli politics,” along with the Mideast policies of the Trump administration.
“What I would argue is that everyone in this room has remained actually pretty steadfast in their principles: support for Israel, support for a secure Israel, support for a two-state solution,” Van Hollen said.
“And what we’ve seen is the politics of this government in Israel, and the politics here at home, move so far out of the right that – what we’re talking here has been bipartisan mainstream, if you go back the last 20 years.”
Jayapal also credited young people in America, citing demographic changes and saying that “there is a big disparity in the generational attitudes.”
Democratic Party platforms have never included language voicing opposition to the “occupation.”
As recently as 2008, the party’s platform acknowledged that Israel would not, and should not be expected to, surrender all of the territory that is claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.
“All understand that it is unrealistic to expect the outcome of final status negotiations to be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949,” the 2008 platform stated, in virtually identical to language used in the 2004 platform.
Gallup polling over time finds favorable views of Israel are held most strongly by “conservative Republicans” (87 percent), followed by moderate/liberal Republicans (72 percent), moderate/conservative Democrats (66 percent) and liberal Democrats (58 percent).