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No Palestine? No Problem!

Ron Skolnik
July 18, 2016


by Ron Skolnik

goposaurIN AN ACT of legerdemain worthy of Criss Angel, David Copperfield, or the legendary illusionist, Harry Houdini, the Republican Party has just pulled off one of the most astounding political magic tricks of our generation: It has made an entire people –- specifically the Palestinian people –- disappear! For the first time since 1996, and only the second time since 1976, no reference to “Palestine” or “Palestinians” can be found anywhere in the dozens of pages that make up the GOP draft platform, which will almost certainly be adopted by the party’s national convention in Cleveland. Roughly 12 million people, half of whom live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, have been blue-penciled, deleted, “Photoshopped” out of existence by the Grand Old Party.

To understand the enormity of this act of prestidigitation, one need only refer to Republican platforms of years past. In each platform since 2004, for example, the Republican Party has explicitly endorsed the vision of a two-state solution, “Israel and Palestine living in peace and security,” based on President George W. Bush’s Rose Garden address of June 24, 2002. Even during the Reagan/Bush Sr. years, when the GOP was still firmly opposed to any thought of Palestinian statehood, its platforms nonetheless mentioned the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” (1992), referred to the conditions for PLO participation in a diplomatic framework (1984, 1988), and acknowledged the existence of “long-term interests” of the “Palestinian Arabs” (1980). Now those same Palestinians have evaporated.

Far from an act of careless omission, or a ploy to curry favor with American Jews who still recall Donald Trump’s Jewish-stereotype-fueled December speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition, the GOP platform’s Israel plank represents a systematic and radical ideological departure. It aligns the GOP not so much with Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu –- who at least pays occasional lip service to Palestinian statehood aspirations –- but with Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s sometime-ally, sometime-rival, whose predominantly Orthodox-religious, pro-annexation Jewish Home party categorically rejects the two-state idea.

THE “VANISHING Palestinians Trick” is but one act in the GOP’s new Middle East extravaganza. Equally significant is the Republican decision to champion occupation-denial. Marking a 180-degree turn away from the legacy of Bush Jr., who referred repeatedly to “occupation” and its deleterious effects in his breakthrough 2002 remarks, the Republican Party now insists that the Occupation doesn’t exist (a “false notion”), though the GOP refuses to say what it considers Israel’s legal status to be in the territories controlled by its military beyond its sovereign borders.

Although they won’t give that status a name, the Republicans have squarely indicated that the nearly fifty-year whatever-it-is beyond the Green Line is worthy of American support. Piggybacking on the text of a law passed by the Netanyahu government in 2011, the GOP platform calls for legislation that would penalize any effort to boycott or divest from enterprises doing business not only in Israel, but in the West Bank as well. Even someone like myself, who limits his boycotts to what goes on beyond the Green Line, is “anti-Semitic in nature” and hell-bent on Israel’s destruction, according to the Party of Trump. (Funny, despite a lifetime doing work in the Jewish community, I never knew!)

The Republican Party’s Israel plank, like the current Israeli government, is not so much pro-annexation as it is pro-status-quo. After all, whereas annexation might oblige Israel to give voting and other equal rights to everyone living within its expanded borders, the status quo allows Israel to “have it both ways” -– military and economic control without the inconvenient burdens and responsibilities that flow from actual sovereignty.

To enable Israel to maintain the status quo indefinitely, the GOP has for the first time incorporated “no daylight” language into its party platform: In other words, the GOP has now promised not to ever publicly differ with the State of Israel in any way, no matter what Israel says or does. How far we’ve come since the good-old days of Reagan (who issued the 1982 Reagan Self-Rule Plan against Israel’s objections), Bush Sr. (the infamous loan guarantees/settlements fight with Prime Minister Shamir), and Bush Jr. (who called on Israel to stop all settlement activity in “the occupied territories”). And while the GOP has never been fond of the U.N., and its platforms have objected to any international intervention in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Party of Trump has gone further than ever before, threatening to defund “any entity” that lays out terms of reference for an eventual agreement. (Would they have defunded the U.S. government in the wake of the Clinton paramaters?)

THE NEW GOP PLATFORM thus marks a victory for a wing of the party represented by such figures as Newt Gingrich and casino magnate/megadonor/Netanyahu patron Sheldon Adelson. Back in December 2011, during his failed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Gingrich notoriously declared that the Palestinians were an “invented people” who, he suggested, had no claims to national self-determination and should essentially self-disperse. Adelson, who, with his wife, funded a pro-Gingrich Super-PAC to the tune of some $19.5 million, expressed his wholehearted agreement. Former Arkansas Governor and perennial presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee is undoubtedly comfortable with the new Israel language, too: Even before Gingrich, Huckabee rejected the two-state solution, expressed support for unrestricted Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and stated that “there’s ... no such thing as a Palestinian.”

On the American Jewish scene, the organization to which the new GOP platform should most appeal is the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), whose National President is Morton Klein. Klein was one of the few American Jewish leaders who hailed Gingrich’s 2011 statement. The ZOA also rejects as “toxic” a whole list of terms such as “Occupation,” “Occupied territories,” “Palestinians,” and so on; Sheldon Adelson, it should surprise no one, is said to be the ZOA’s largest donor.

On July 9, 2012, a committee appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu issued the so-called “Levy Report” (after the committee’s chair, former Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy). The report rejected the international consensus that the West Bank is occupied territory, endorsed the “legal right” of Israelis “to settle in Judea and Samaria” (i.e., the West Bank) and gave short shrift to the Palestinian people living in the area. While the Netanyahu government has reportedly been working to covertly implement the committee’s recommendations in practice, the Prime Minister has never officially adopted the report, fearing an international outcry. The GOP’s adoption of a new platform on Israel, and, even more so, the possible election of the Republican Party’s nominee in November, might finally give Netanyahu the confidence to set aside his concerns.

Ron Skolnik is the new associate editor of Jewish Currents magazine. He is an American-Israeli political analyst, columnist, and translator who for many years directed Partners for Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA), prior to which he served as political adviser to the British Embassy in Israel. You can follow Ron on Twitter @Ron_Skolnik.