It’s Time for the Democratic Party to Mention the Occupation

It’s Time for the Democratic Party to Mention the Occupation

It’s Time for the Democratic Party to Mention the Occupation

If the next Democratic administration is serious about promoting peace, the party platform needs to condemn Israel’s illegal occupation by name.


The Democratic Party often has meaningful debates when putting together its platform on a range of issues—including one often seen as the third rail of American politics: US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As longtime activists in the American Jewish and Arab American communities, respectively, we believe this year’s platform has the opportunity to be groundbreaking and fruitful instead of divisive. Democratic leaders should unite behind a vision that shows a clear commitment to the rights and security of both Palestinians and Israelis. They should promote diplomacy to help achieve peace, while strongly opposing settlements, annexation, incitement, violence, and the injustice of occupation.

The first draft of the platform’s Israel/Palestine plank revealed last week contains several of these elements—including, for the first time, affirmation of “the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.” Yet, frustratingly, once again the platform draft is missing an indispensable component: acknowledgement that millions of Palestinians continue to live under Israeli military occupation, without the basic civil rights and freedoms enjoyed by Israeli citizens living both inside the State of Israel and in illegal West Bank settlements.

Including or omitting reference to occupation is not a mere word choice. It’s an indication of whether the Democratic party is truly willing to confront and oppose the systemic injustice that has been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for over 53 years.

Without admitting the existence of occupation, one cannot understand how Palestinians are daily deprived of their fundamental rights—or why they demand freedom and independent statehood. Without admitting occupation, one cannot understand why so many veteran Israeli political and security leaders warn that the country’s unending rule over another people is eroding its democratic institutions and leading it down (in the words of former prime minister Ehud Barak) “a slippery slope toward apartheid.”

It’s encouraging that the current draft includes opposition to Israeli settlement expansion and potential unilateral annexation. This is a major improvement over previous platforms that said nothing on the subject of settlements. Yet if the next Democratic administration is serious about promoting real peace, the party needs to go beyond this.

It’s not only annexation or further expansion of settlements that poses a major obstacle to peace—it is the entire settlement enterprise, which for decades has entrenched occupation, compromising the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Until we confront the settlers’ agenda head-on, our diplomatic efforts will continue to be stymied—and both Palestinians and Israelis will continue to lose faith that a negotiated solution could ever be possible. Until we make clear that American taxpayer dollars cannot be used as a blank check to help implement illegal annexation and other actions and policies that run counter to US interests and values, the Israeli right will continue to reject all compromise and to believe that it can act with impunity.

Outside of the settlement movement and its apologists, the term “occupation” is not and should not be controversial in this country, in Israel/Palestine or anywhere in the world. Until the Trump administration, it has been the policy of both Republican and Democratic presidents to recognize (and oppose) the occupation since it began in 1967.

In 2008, President George W. Bush called for “an end to the occupation that began in 1967.” In a 2009 speech, President Barack Obama stated that “the Palestinian people…endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation.” For decades, even Israeli hard-liners such as former prime minister Ariel Sharon have regularly used the term.

There is no reason for the Democratic Party not to officially recognize occupation in 2020, at a time when so many Americans are finally grappling with deep systemic issues, like racial injustice and police brutality, that continue to shape our reality.

As the party seeks to affirm its commitment to the fundamental rights of all people in this country and around the world, it must include a clear commitment to the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians. It must decisively bring an end to years of obfuscation and denial. It must confidently call out the occupation as an unacceptable injustice that—in order to achieve a better future for both peoples—can and should be brought to an end.

With the platform still subject to amendment and revision, it’s not too late for party leaders to take this vital step. If they do, they can help avoid further divisiveness and frustration among their own base voters. Democrats across the country would rally behind a platform that promoted this vision.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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