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Foreign Policy in Focus

Democratic Leaders Undermine Israeli-Palestinian Peace and Their Own Procedures

In a stunning violation of its own rules, the wishes of the majority of delegates at its national convention, and positions taken by the United Nations and virtually every country in the world, the Democratic Party leadership pushed through an amendment to its platform early during its proceedings on Wednesday, with barely half the delegates present and without allowing for any discussion or debate, stating that Jerusalem "is and will remain the capital of Israel” and should be “undivided.”

The language, as foreign policy analysts noted, is in "in direct opposition to longstanding U.S. policy on Jerusalem" that the status of the city should be determined by talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom desire Jerusalem as their capital, and that the city should not be unilaterally recognized as the capital of either Israel or Palestine until then. Most observers have recognized that a workable two-state solution would include having Jewish-populated western Jerusalem recognized as the capital of Israel and the predominantly Arab part of eastern Jerusalem—currently under Israeli military occupation—as the capital of a Palestinian state.

The amendment to the platform, however, ignores Palestinian claims to the city completely, which—combined with the insistence that the city be “undivided”—could be interpreted as a call for exclusive Israeli control. By contrast, a recent poll showed that Democrats by a nearly 2:1 margin believe that Jerusalem should be divided between Israelis and Palestinians rather than controlled exclusively by Israel.

Virtually no country currently recognizes Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Neither the United States nor any other country currently has its embassy in Jerusalem—nearly all foreign embassies are located instead in Tel Aviv.  

Convention chairman and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa put the amendment to the floor, along with another amendment to include mention of God in the platform, for a voice vote, noting that a two-thirds majority was necessary for adoption of the amendment. He looked surprised when the “nay” votes appeared to outnumber the “aye” votes. He called the motion a second time with the same results. He then called the motion a third time, still way short of the required two-thirds majority and probably still short of even a simple majority, but he claimed that the motion had somehow received at least two-thirds vote anyway and declared the motion carried.

Outraged delegates in the majority started booing at the chair for his extraordinary abuse of power. The media jumped on the unprecedented discord in what had until then been a very unified and orderly convention, while leading Republicans and conservative commentators began claiming that Democrats were “booing God and Jerusalem.”


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As an illustration of the depth of the dishonesty in the Democratic Party leadership, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz claimed that the vote was “absolutely two-thirds” and that "there wasn't any discord." Afterwards, CNN’s Anderson Cooper observed that the DNC chair must live in an "alternate universe.”

Pushing through the amendment was in part a reaction to Republican criticisms that the Obama administration—despite providing record amounts of taxpayer-funded military aid to Israel’s rightist government and blocking the United Nations from challenging Israeli violations of international humanitarian law—was somehow not supportive enough of Israel. It appears, then, that President Obama and other Democratic leaders were more concerned about assuaging right-wing Republicans than honoring the beliefs of members of their own party or following their own convention rules.

Indeed, the Democratic leadership was so desperate to push through this right-wing amendment that the chair was willing to lie in front of a nationally televised audience that an amendment had passed by a two-thirds majority voice vote when it was obvious to any viewer or listener that, despite three separate attempts, it had not. And they did so despite the likelihood that it would create a chaotic and angry scene on the convention floor that the media and the Republicans would exploit to the fullest.

It was also a demonstration of just how determined the Democratic Party leadership is to undermine the Middle East peace process and weaken international law, even if it means running roughshod over their members and thereby hurting their chances in November.

The craven way in which the Jerusalem amendment was pushed through demonstrates that the Democratic Party is not a democratic party. It has shown to the world an essentially authoritarian mindset, both in terms of its willingness to undermine international law in its support of the expansionist goals of allied right-wing governments as well as its willingness to ignore its own rules and overrule the majority of the elected delegates at its national convention.

This raises some critical questions for Democrats as we move into the final three months of the 2012 campaign: If the leadership refuses to respect party members, why should party members respect the leadership? And why should ordinary Democrats work to re-elect leaders who put their own right-wing agenda ahead of the beliefs of the party’s more progressive majority?

Stephen Zunes

Stephen Zunes

Stephen Zunes is a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, where he serves as coordinator of the program in Middle Eastern Studies. Recognized as one the country’s leading scholars of U.S. Middle East policy and of strategic nonviolent action, Professor Zunes serves as a senior policy analyst for the Foreign Policy in Focus project of the Institute for Policy Studies, an associate editor of Peace Review, a contributing editor of Tikkun, and co-chair of the academic advisory committee for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

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