If you want a measure of the peculiarity of our time, consider this.
On Monday, our colleague and contributor Jeff Dunetz reported the new language on Israel proposed for the Republican Party platform for 2016.
The short story on it is that the new language doesn’t make explicit reference to a “two-state solution”: i.e., an affirmation that there should be a “Palestinian state” alongside the nation of Israel.
The platforms of 2004, 2008, and 2012 made such affirmations. But the committee preparing the 2016 platform’s section on Israel voted 14-2 in favor of new language, which simply affirms that the arrangement must be worked out by the parties themselves. It does not speak of a “Palestinian state” as a GOP priority.
Jeff points out that this doesn’t mean the GOP is rejecting a Palestinian state. He’s quite right. But this is clearly a major policy signal – assuming the language stands, as the platform percolates through the convention process. (See the language in the image below.)
Read Jeff’s post. I won’t rehash all his important points here. I want to react instead to the fact that this is happening at all, and point out that it could not have happened if the last year had been different: if more things had lived up to our conventional expectations (or, in some cases, our hopes).
Jeff calls out the interesting fact that AIPAC is reportedly trying to intercept the approval of this language. He quotes a colleague:
The rumor is that AIPAC is trying to recruit surrogates on the Committee to oppose and weaken our strong Israel Plank language tomorrow when it comes before the full committee for approval.
Jeff Ballabon of Iron Dome Alliance…said that he is “personally familiar with a number of instances where AIPAC lobbied against Israel’s clear interests and stated policies in pursuit of their own agenda.”
And that brings up the Iron Dome Alliance. The creation of the Iron Dome Alliance is part of the whole “tectonic shift” (what would we do without Dmitry Medvedev?) in human affairs that is at the root of these various effects. Basically, the definition of what constitutes a “strong Israel Plank” has changed in the last couple of years – although plenty of people haven’t caught up to that reality yet.
And that means a lot of other people think the old stances that used to be strongly pro-Israel aren’t so much anymore.
One of those stances is taking for granted the desirability of a Palestinian state. As our vice president would say, it will be a Big Effing Deal if the Republican Party ceases defining Israel’s interests – from the GOP’s perspective – as including the formation of such a state. The GOP would be leaving it open as a possibility, of course. But not affirming it explicitly is a major change.
The Republican leadership and AIPAC have been solid on affirming a two-state solution for some time now. But a couple of things happened in 2015 that blew this reflexive solidarity out of the water.
One was the Iran “deal.” A significant aspect of it was little noticed at the time, outside of what we might call the most pro-Israel core of the GOP. This significant development was that AIPAC backed down during the congressional negotiations over the Obama package, ultimately deciding not to join the GOP in a goal-line defense against the JCPOA.
As the WFB article notes, there had been earlier cracks opening between AIPAC and Israel’s staunchest supporters on Capitol Hill. But AIPAC’s decision to sit out the Iran “deal” negotiations disappointed enough Israel supporters that an effort was launched to build an alternative to AIPAC.
That led Jeff Ballabon and Bruce Abramson to form the Iron Dome Alliance. Backstory on them is for another time (there’s some in the next link below); the focus here is the concatenation of circumstances that has brought us to the major shift in the proposed GOP platform. Note that it was the Iron Dome Alliance that was working with the platform writers to produce the new language.
The Iron Dome Alliance is plugged in with top Israel supporters on Capitol Hill – but that might not have been enough to get them the main influence on the GOP platform, even after the Iran “deal” debacle. The other thing that had to change in 2015 was the other big thing that did change: the lock of the party’s core leadership on the mechanics of the primaries and the convention.
That lock was lost. It’s gone. If the voters had responded as old-consensus politicos like Karl Rove would have predicted, Jeb Bush would have wrapped up the nomination sometime in March or April of 2016 – and newcoming outsiders like the Iron Dome Alliance would be much less likely to be writing the Israel language in the GOP platform. The Israel Plank would be written by the usual suspects from the party and AIPAC.
But the voters didn’t coalesce around Jeb Bush. They sorted themselves down to Donald Trump.
With Trump the nominee-in-waiting, the whole thing is more wide open than it’s been in decades – including on Israel – partly because Trump doesn’t have a platform army to deploy with a doctrine manual and a ground-game, and partly because the people who do aren’t going to be in charge in Cleveland.
(That seems to be why platform writers are feeling free to try to “progressive” up the language on same-sex marriage, and otherwise accept the premises of the “LGBT” political theme. We could be in for an interesting array of other examples as well.)
The existing GOP leadership and AIPAC are both card-carrying members of the old-consensus political structure. AIPAC appears to be trying to push back against a new direction on Israel policy for the GOP. And we can probably expect some effort at pushback from the old-consensus elements of the party.
But while the product may not be finished yet, the food for thought abounds. Here is what has changed: after 12 years – three presidential-year cycles – of affirming a two-state outcome in its Israel Plank, the GOP’s platform committee has formally proposed to stop doing that.
And here’s why it changed: because the hold of the old consensus has been decisively compromised, by the rifts that opened with the Iran “deal,” and the voters’ broader-scale rejection of the old-consensus option in the primaries (Jeb Bush).
Exit note: there’s no need to panic about the prospect of the GOP ceasing to explicitly demand a Palestinian state. (Again, we don’t know for sure yet that that will be the outcome.) It’s blindingly obvious that the lack of a Palestinian state is not the Middle East’s big problem. It’s also blindingly obvious that Mahmoud Abbas and his cohort are not even ready to negotiate seriously and in good faith, much less lead a nation-state.
For some time now, I’ve thought of the “Quartet” negotiations as the “Zombie Peace Process” – the Undead. It’s a flesh-eating monster that Obama and Kerry keep prodding along: no life, no future, but no one can seem to kill it and put it out of its misery.
It has served a purpose as a placeholder, to be sure, since no one has been in a position for the last five years to come up with another anchor for continued engagement.
But we’re not in 1993 anymore. The conditions don’t exist now to keep negotiating on the old premises of the Oslo Accords. Whatever the path of the future is, it will have to acknowledge realities like the currently uncertain prospects of both Syria and Iraq, the aggressive advances of Iran, and the complete loss of a unipolar, one-superpower world.
Very interesting, that out of the otherwise unpropitious prospects for the GOP, this opportunity should emerge to shed a particular, outdated platform position.