Considering Hillary Clinton, there is a conflicting history behind her current pro-Israel support. Starting in 1974, she showed sympathy to the PLO and its leader Yasser Arafat according to Christopher Anderson in his 2004 book “American Evita.” She tried to convince her outraged husband President Bill Clinton that Yasser Arafat’s “Gun and Olive Branch” speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1974 that Arafat was a “freedom fighter” who is trying to free his people from Israel.
In 1998, Clinton declares her support for an independent Palestinian state by saying “It would be in the long-term interests of peace in the Middle East for there to be a state of Palestine, a functioning modern state that is on the same footing as other states.” A year after, Clinton shows a different side when she writes a letter to the Orthodox Union saying that Jerusalem is the “eternal and indivisible capital of Israel.” She also mentioned that if she were to be elected a senator, she would make sure to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In 2000, Clinton accepted a $50,000 in campaign donation at a fund–raising event for her senate race in New York sponsored by Muslim organization, The American Muslim Alliance. Nevertheless, after four months of receiving the donation, Clinton returned it saying, “I learned that an organization claimed credit for sponsoring a fundraiser I attended; an organization whose members have made statements that I find offensive and have condemned. And as soon as I found out the facts, I returned all of the money that was raised because I did not want anyone to have a false impression about my strong support for Israel’s safety and security.”
Her most noticeable transformation regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict came after she was elected senator of New York in 2001. Clinton in 2006 was part of a rally near United Nations headquarters in New York City, saying that she would take, “whatever steps are necessary” to defend Israel against Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria. Adding that, “I want us here in New York to imagine, if extremist terrorists were launching rocket attacks across the Mexican or Canadian border, would we stand by or would we defend America against these attacks from extremists?” A year after, Clinton told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that Hamas’s authority of Gaza should not be officially recognized until they “renounce violence and terror and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
During Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, she stated on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program, that if she were a president, “The U.S. would destroy Iran in revenge for a nuclear strike against Israel.” In 2012, when Clinton ran against Obama, she was more forcefully supporting Israel than Obama saying that Israel “has the right to defend itself” in which Obama also have said repeatedly but she have spoke much more with force.
In 2012, Clinton spoke at the Saban Forum saying that Israel is not considerate of the Palestinians and their needs, “So, yes, there is more that the Israelis need to do to really demonstrate that they do understand the pain of an oppressed people in their minds, and they want to figure out, within the bounds of security and a Jewish democratic state, what can be accomplished.” And in 2014, Clinton characterized Israel as the occupying force during one of her visits to Jericho, in the West Bank, seeing the way Palestinians live under the occupation. .Nevertheless, Clinton last year’s speech at AIPAC totally ignored the Palestinian. Clinton speech was bias, in where she repeatedly spoke about the suffering of Israeli’s, yet did not acknowledge the suffering of Palestinians.
Clinton’s now consistent support for Israel means having a commitment to a stable future Jewish state saying she is “deeply committed to Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state, and just as convinced that the only way to guarantee that outcome is through diplomacy. And while no solution can be imposed from outside, I believe the United States has a responsibility to help bring Israelis and Palestinians to the table and to encourage the difficult but necessary decisions that will lead to peace. As president I will never stop working to advance the goal of two states for two peoples living in peace, security, and dignity.” (November 4, 2015). This speech was made on the 20th anniversary of the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin. Recently, Clinton has also come out against the Boycott Divestment Sanction (BDS) movement called by Palestinian civil society to pressure Israel to end the occupation and provide rights for the Palestinians. She has connected the movement to the rise of anti-Semitism and stated
I believe that BDS seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict. This is not the path to peace.
Looking back on Clinton’s statements over the years, it appears that the closer she got to running for president, the more she spoke about Israel security and it being the US best ally in the Middle East.
Although Bernie Sanders is no longer likely to be the Democratic Party nominee, it is worthwhile reviewing his positions on Israel-Palestine especially now that his representatives will be pushing for Palestinian rights to be included in the party platform at the convention.
Even though Bernie spent time on a kibbutz, he has shown fairly consistent support for the Palestinians and being Jewish his critical statements about Israel have surprised many pro-Israel supporters. Nevertheless, Sanders has always wanted to protect Israel at any cost but at the same time wants to fight for a Palestinian state. Sanders has showed bravery in condemning Israeli action against the Palestinian. For example, in March 1988 during a news conference, Sanders called the heartless Israeli treatment of Palestinians protesters ”an absolute disgrace” along with saying “The sight of Israeli soldiers breaking the arms and legs of Arabs is reprehensible” and “must be condemned.”
Sanders has made statements condemning U.S and Israeli policy – telling his students at the University of Vermont “The policy that Israelis shoot people is unacceptable. It is wrong that the United States provides arms to Israel.” Looking at Sanders’ statements we see that many times when he supported Israel’s safety, he also mentioned the suffering of the Palestinians. In fact, in 1991, Sanders voted to withhold $82.5 million in U.S. aid for Israel unless it stopped settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – which was rejected on a 44-378 vote.” Nevertheless, even people who have served him, have mentioned his support to the Palestinians. A “Jewish Democrat who served as a senior aide to Sanders on Capitol Hill” has said that “His views on Israel were pretty consistent with center-left people,” he further said that “There was never any question like whether the country should exist or anything. He was a pro-peace process member.”
In recent years, Sanders did not support the resolution in 2014 supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas because it showed no mention of Palestinian suffering. A year after, the Prime Minister Netanyahu was getting ready for his March 2015 address to a joint meeting of Congress and Sanders was the first senator to announce that he would not attend. With all this in mind, Sanders was still considered a friend and an ally to the pro-Israeli communities until he ran for President and he began to be more outspoken for Palestinian rights in contrast to Clinton.
Platform Fight at the Democratic Convention
The Democratic National convention will be held in Philadelphia in July. Clinton and Sanders are divided on Israel-Palestine conflict when it comes to their appointments to the party’s platform committee. Sanders’ representatives are pro-Palestine and Clinton’s are pro-Israel. “Sanders’s slate includes James Zogby, a longtime activist for Palestinian rights as well as a DNC member and official. Zogby currently co-chairs the party’s resolutions committee. His inclusion is a sign of Sanders’s plans to push the party’s policy on Israel toward what he has called a more even-handed approach to the Palestinian cause.” Sanders has also included Dr. Cornel West, professor and activist, who will certainly hold no punches in his debates on the committee. Other Sanders appointees include Keith Ellison, a Democratic representative from Minnesota and a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Deborah Parker, a Native American activist.
On the other hand, one of Clinton’s representatives is Debbie Wasserman Schultz, an extreme pro-Israel advocate who also, is the head of the Democratic National Committee. In addition, Clinton has included Wendy Sherman and Carol Browner who both served in the administration of Clinton and Obama. Considering the division in positions, there will be heated discussions between the two sides on topics such as the BDS movement, Israel’s right for security, the Gaza blockade, West Bank settlements and the use of the word “occupation.” Seeing all this division, we can expect a strong battle between the two candidates at the convention regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Even with these fights, debates and differences when it comes to Israel-Palestine issues, there will likely be no concrete plan in the party platform for a solution to the conflict. In any case, the presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, will still be free to ignore the platform on this topic if she choses to do so.
Evaluating the beliefs held by Donald Trump toward the Israel-Palestine conflict before he was a presidential candidate, is mainly seeing Trump influenced by being a business man. Trump in 2004 served as grand marshal for the Israel Parade in New York and has received many awards from American Jewish organizations for his support to Israel. He enthusiastically endorsed Benjamin Netanyahu in 2013 in a 30-second video message saying
You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s a winner, he’s highly respected, and he’s highly thought of by all. Vote for Benjamin – terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.
Trump’s daughter converted to Judaism when she married in 2009, yet Trump has been known to make anti-Semitic comments. In a 1991 a book written by a former close colleague of Trump, John O’Donnell was quoted as saying “the only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” A recent anti-Semitic comment made by Trump was on December 3 when he told members of the Republican Jewish Coalition that he doubts many members will back him because he is rich and doesn’t want their contributions. Trump thought that he was joking but the Israeli media saw his comments as reinforcing anti-Semitic stereotyping of Jews as rich people who “control the world” and can “buy” elections with their money. Lastly, Trump has said he will always try to be a friend to Israel as when he declared his candidacy, he strongly attacked the Iran nuclear deal calling it “a disaster” that could threaten Israel’s survival.
In reviewing the likely remaining candidates, Clinton and Trump both show constant and, in some cases, even extreme support toward Israel with little sympathy or concern about the rights of the Palestinians. Recent surveys show that the majority of Americans still support Israel more than the Palestinians, but younger Americans are going in the opposite direction supporting the Palestinians. The majority of Americans still believe there should be a Palestinian state. Neither Clinton or Trump represent the trend in American public opinion, i.e. respect and concern for Palestinian rights.
Whether the next president is Hillary Clinton, who seemed pro-Palestine originally and now is extremely pro-Israel; or Bernie Sanders who supports peace between Israel and Palestine while aware of issues on both sides; or Donald Trump who is generally pro-Israel but with little understanding of the issues, it is unlikely there will be any movement in the peace process by the US.
Whether it’s the debate over the word “occupation” in the Democratic Party platform, Clinton’s opposition to the non-violent BDS movement called for by Palestinian civil society, or Trump’s bellicose statements about supporting Israel no matter what, it appears unlikely there will be an consensus of presidential candidates or presidents for a long time to come. Given that the last three presidents have tried and failed to find a solution to the conflict, it’s not surprising that presidential candidates that have tired, old views will improve on that record of failure. But in the meantime, younger Americans show less support toward Israel and more for the Palestinians and the majority of all Americans still favor the formation of a Palestinian state. Even with the attacks on the BDS movement by Clinton and other politicians across the country, the number of BDS successes in the US and around the world only increase. Maybe it’s time to realize it is not the President of the US who will bring about a resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.