The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) asked the 2020 Democratic candidates to answer a series of questions on important foreign policy topics. Yesterday Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren submitted her responses to the twelve questions, one of which was on the topic of Israel/Palestine.
The seventh inquiry on the questionnaire reads, “Do you support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, if so, how would you go about trying to achieve it?”
Warren responds with two paragraphs. Here’s the first one:
I believe in the worth and value of every Israeli and every Palestinian. The way we respect all parties is through a two-state solution – an outcome that’s good for U.S. interests, good for Israel’s security and its future, and good for Palestinian aspirations for dignity and self-determination. To achieve this, there must be an end to the Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip living alongside Israel.
This is boilerplate stuff and not exactly controversial. Nonetheless, Republicans attacked Warren for similar sentiments this past July after she told IfNotNow activists that she would work to end the occupation. As Robert Mackey pointed out at The Intercept at the time, not only does Warren’s position echo that of many presidents before Trump, the late Israeli Prime Minister (and war criminal) Ariel Sharon also called for an end to the occupation. “The idea that we can continue holding under occupation — and it is occupation, you might not like this word, but it’s really an occupation — to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is, in my opinion, a very bad thing for us and for them,” Sharon said in 2003.
WATCH Fifteen years ago the Israeli prime minister and longtime hawk and backer of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, Ariel Sharon, said the occupation has to end. #TBT
"To hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation, is, in my opinion, a very bad thing." pic.twitter.com/7NBgnzAt5n
— Yachad UK (@YachadUK) December 6, 2018
Warren’s second paragraph is a little more interesting:
As president, I would take immediate steps to reestablish America’s role as a credible mediator by welcoming the Palestinian General Delegation back to Washington and reopening an American mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem. I would also make clear that in a two-state agreement both parties should have the option to locate their capitals in Jerusalem, as all previous serious plans have acknowledged. We should immediately resume aid to the Palestinians and financial support to UNRWA, and focus real financial and political resources on fixing the man-made humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip. I will oppose incitement to violence and support for terrorism by Palestinian extremists like Hamas. And I will make clear my unequivocal opposition to Israeli settlement activity and to any moves in the direction of annexation of the West Bank.
It’s unclear when the United States could have ever been viewed as a “credible mediator” in the conflict, but Warren is presumably referencing the policies of President Obama. While that administration certainly had its dustups with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and offered more hopeful rhetoric than previous governments, Obama failed to stop settlement expansion, hold Israel accountable in any way on a global stage, or stop its siege of the Gaza Strip. He also signed a record-breaking military aid deal with the country before leaving office, securing Israel $38 billion over the next decade. Assessing Obama’s Israel/Palestine legacy at the end of his final term, Josh Ruebner wrote:
Ironically, as the president most rhetorically supportive of Palestinian rights and most energetic in his pursuit of Palestinian statehood prepares to leave office, his legacy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue will not be as peacemaker. Instead, the prospects for a negotiated two-state resolution—the formal U.S. policy goal since the waning days of the Clinton administration—appear dim, if not irretrievably extinguished. For this, the ever-rightward drifting Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vetoed the possibility of a Palestinian state, bears primary responsibility. But it was the willful policy choices of the Obama administration that abetted and facilitated this Israeli rejectionism. That, unfortunately, is Obama’s tarnished legacy.
Warren’s desire to return to this era is even more problematic when superimposed over the current reality. While Netanyahu is openly calling for annexation in the West Bank and the country’s right-wing is declaring that a free Palestine would “be a dysfunctional terrorist state”, nearly all of Washington stands opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement–a nonviolent campaign that aims to succeed where United States liberals have failed for decades, holding Israel accountable on human rights issues.
Warren also seems to be saying she wouldn’t move the United States’ Israel embassy out of Jerusalem, despite the Trump administration’s controversial decision to move it there from Tel Aviv. She’s certainly not alone on this. While a number of candidates have criticized the decision, no one has indicated that they’d actually reverse it.
Not once in her response does Warren touch the idea of conditioning aid to Israel. Telling Israel that she opposes expansion settlement and annexation wouldn’t be expected to have much impact while her administration is giving the country over $3 billion a year. Warren’s refusal to broach the subject now puts her to the right of most Democratic voters. According to a report recently put out by Data For Progress, a staggering 64% of Dem voters support conditioning aid to Israel over human rights violations, while just 11% oppose the policy.
Despite these stats, only two candidates have even floated the idea of conditioning aid. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has now mentioned it numerous times, most recently saying, “The United States government gives a whole lot of money to Israel and I think we can leverage that money to end some of the racism that we have recently seen in Israel.” This idea is extremely vague (how one would even quantify what constitutes racism in a state like Israel is an open question) and no one has pressed him to offer more specifics.
Surprisingly, the only candidate to offer a specific example of how they’d condition Israeli aid has been South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. In June, Buttigieg gave a speech in which he declared that he wouldn’t allow U.S. aid to be used by Israel in order to annex the West Bank. Some outlets reported that Buttigieg had called for cutting aid to Israel, but the text of his speech makes it clear that he would only look to stop the money from being used for annexation. “A two-state solution that achieves legitimate Palestinian aspirations and meets Israel’s security needs remains the only viable way forward and it will be our policy to support such a solution actively,” he said. “And if Prime Minister Netanyahu makes good on his promise to annex West Bank settlements, he should know that a President Buttigieg would take steps to ensure that American taxpayers won’t help foot the bill.”
Buttigieg’s idea raises some questions and there’s a big obvious one: if aid can be conditioned to impact the future, hypothetical humans rights violations by Israel, then why wouldn’t a Buttigieg administration use that method to stop human rights violations that are currently happening? For instance, the occupation that Buttigieg claims he opposes.
It also remains to be seen what these kinds of Democratic criticisms begin to look like in post-election Israel. Neither Netanyahu nor his chief opponent Benny Gantz was able to form a majority government, but Netanyahu has been nominated to form its next one. In his June speech Buttigieg makes it clear that his issue was with Israel’s specific government and that he’s a consistent supporter of the country. “Just as an American patriot may oppose the policies of an American president, a supporter of Israel may also oppose the policies of an Israeli right-wing government,” he said. “Especially when we see increasingly disturbing signs that the Netanyahu government is turning away from peace.”
There’s early signs that Buttigieg would be more receptive to a Blue and White government. He recently praised the Joint List’s backing of Gantz. “It’s remarkable,” he told Jewish Insider. “I don’t know how that reverberates in terms of the domestic calculations that Gantz has to make, but there is some possibility of growth and unity in that somewhere. I’d like to find out what it actually leads to.”
Much like Warren’s vision, it presumably leads to more of the same for Palestinians.