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Yousef Munayyer

The coming battle over Israel in US presidential race

Hillary is likely to embrace Israel even more strongly than Barack Obama [AFP]

Date of publication: 22 July, 2016

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Comment: As president of the USA, Clinton would strengthen ties with Israel, echoing policies of the Democratic Party's past, and creating tension with its younger future, writes Dr. Yousef Munayyer

While it may seem as though presidential election campaigns in United States have already been running for an eternity, they finally officially begin this week and next with the Republican and Democratic conventions, where candidates will become their party's official nominees.

As has been made clear over the past several months and years, there is little that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on. But Israel is one of the few issues where there is some shared ground, and fighting the Palestinian rights movement's use of BDS tactics is a common plank they have both adopted.

The official platforms of both parties, the political programmes on which their candidates are supposed to run at every level of government, have for the first time included mention of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel and urge opposition to these efforts.

While this may be seen as a blow to the movement for Palestinian rights, it is instead a reflection of the growth and strength of a movement. Only a few years prior, BDS was not mentioned by officials, and was generally ignored or scoffed at.

Today, it is not only mentioned by the highest ranking officials but it has been incorporated into the political programmes of the two major parties in the United States. This is not because it is insignificant.

The evolution of each party's 2016 platform on Israel has seen the use of differing language. While the Republicans have moved steadily to the right and removed the notion of a Palestinian state from their platform altogether, the Democrats were embroiled in a fight as the Bernie Sanders' campaign made it clear that there were significant differences in the party over US-Israel policy.

Clinton has already committed to inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in her first month in office

During multiple drafting sessions, the Sanders delegation attempted to amend the platform language to include recognition of the need to end the occupation and the illegal settlements. While these efforts ultimately failed, they laid bare divisions that have come to the fore in recent years.

US-Israel policy has increasingly become a contentious and partisan issue. This is a product of two things; the confluence of a right-wing Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu with a Democratic Obama administration, and value-based voters' growing rejection of the apartheid reality on the ground, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

What we may well see in the coming years is an attempt to reverse the first dynamic while the second continues in earnest.

Hillary Clinton, at this point the frontrunner for the presidency, has left us under no illusion over her support for Israel, and is likely to embrace Israel even more strongly than Barack Obama.

While President Obama's tensions with Benjamin Netanyahu were a feature of both men's time in office, it is important to note that Obama did not in any way deviate from long-standing US support for Israel, and in fact provided Israel with record amounts of military aid.

Still, relations were not warm and while the progressive base of Hillary Clinton's democratic party are pushing for more evenhanded policy on Israel, Clinton herself has given every indication she will move in the other direction.

Try as it might, the old guard of the Democratic Party is likely to find itself increasingly at odds with a base that is already moving on.

This shift is likely to set up a battle in Democratic politics over the relationship with Israel. The future of the party - those under the age of 45 - have a strikingly different view of the situation than its older leadership. In this sense, Clinton is a leader of the party's past, pushing policies that will create tension with the party's future.

Clinton has already committed to inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in her first month in office.  Netanyahu, likely to still be the Prime Minister at the time barring a dramatic shift in Israeli politics, may well arrive in Washington alongside the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convening that takes place every spring.

The pomp and circumstance will likely be billed as a reset of the relationship between Democrats and Israel, one that has frayed over recent years.

This reset, however, may well prove futile so long as the root causes of the deterioration during the Obama years - the ongoing denial of Palestinian rights, the belligerency of the Israeli leadership, and the constant flouting of international law - continue to remain in place. The stage is being set for a battle over the Democratic Party's support for an apartheid Israeli state over the next several years.

Try as it might, the old guard of the Democratic Party is likely to find itself increasingly at odds with a base that is already moving on.


Dr. Yousef Munayyer is a Middle East Analyst at Arab Center Washington DC. Follow him on Twitter: @YousefMunayyer

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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