In new platform Democrats go pro-Israel but skirt road map

washington | The Democratic Party wants to send the right message to the American Jewish community about its priorities in the Middle East, but its platform fails to include several positions Jewish groups recommended.

The platform, finalized this weekend in Miami, resolves to uphold the close relationship between the United States and Israel. It also negates a Palestinian refugee “right of return” to Israel and says the armistice line ending Israel’s 1948 War of Independence — known as the Green Line — cannot be the basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, implicitly recognizing some Israeli claims to the West Bank.

“It is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice line of 1949,” the draft reads.

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), who drafted the language, expressed delight that her proposal was adopted “word for word.”

“It’s perfect,” she said.

However, the platform ignores calls from several Jewish organizations to explicitly endorse the “road map” plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, support Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank and justify Israel’s West Bank security barrier.

“A party platform is not supposed to specifically negate or support every item of a country’s agenda at the moment,” said Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), who helped write the Middle East section of the platform. “The language that is contained in the platform is entirely consistent and supportive of the ‘road map.'”

The American Jewish vote is being watched closely in this year’s presidential election largely because of President Bush’s support for Israel and Jewish approval of the policy positions Bush has laid out in the Middle East.

The platform could be an opportunity for Democrats to solidify their traditional base of American Jewish support with policy positions that match Bush administration support for Israel.

The passages define Democratic Party policy for the next four years. The draft platform as a whole now goes for an up or down vote at the convention later this month; no one expects it to be defeated.

The American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League laid out policy recommendations for both political parties last month that included support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan.

No word is expected on the Republican platform until next month — the Republican convention isn’t until the end of August, a month after the Democratic one — but Bush already has endorsed Sharon’s plan.

The American Jewish Committee also advised the platform committees to endorse the road map that the United States crafted with the United Nations, European Union and Russia, and to express support for Israel’s right to construct its security fence. The fence has drawn fire because it juts beyond the Green Line in some areas into land the Palestinians want for a future state.

“What we came to say is, in these cases, you should be supporting these things,” said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles chapter, who addressed the Democratic platform committee last month in Santa Fe, N.M.

One drafter suggested that references to the “road map” were avoided in the Democratic platform because the Democrats were not interested in endorsing a plan shaped by President Bush and touted by Republicans as more effective than President Clinton’s earlier efforts.

“No, we somehow didn’t mention Republican proposals,” the drafter said.

Instead, the draft platform forsakes such details for more general themes.

“We will ensure that under all circumstances, Israel retains the qualitative edge for its national security and the right to self defense,” the draft reads.