U.S. Political Response to the Trump/Netanyahu “Steal of the Century”

Israel-Palestine After the 1967 War

No doubt many of you have been reading from among the flood of articles and analyses regarding Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century” for Israel-Palestine.  For background and history of the deal, see this article, reproduced from a Dorchester for Peace e-newsletter.

Palestinians and their supporters have naturally rejected the annexionist framework of the Trump-Netanyahu plan. No doubt its release now was aimed at boosting Netanyahu’s election chances, as well as pleasing major GOP pro-Israel funders like Sheldon Adelson and elements – primarily the politicized “religious leadership” – of the President’s evangelical base.

What about the political response in the US? 

In general, US commentary on the Trump-Netanyahu plan split along partisan lines as has now become normal regarding US policy toward Israel.  Democrats, including Democratic presidential candidates, were nearly universal in condemning the Trump initiative, though some more vehemently than others.  But Democratic Congressional leaders Pelosi and Schumer were notably subdued in their criticism — many “pro-Israel” party donors and in particular Haim Saban, the largest DNC contributor, have expressed support for at least not rejected the Trump plan.  Progressive reps and Senators were considerably sharper in their opposition.

The indispensable Legislative Roundup by Lara Friedman the has posted a near-exhaustive compilation of Congressional responses. In general, the statements were strongly critical but mostly repeating tired allusions to “supporting Israel” while advocating a “two-State” outcome to be achieved by direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. From Massachusetts, Sen. Markey’s statement was typical; Rep. Ayanna Pressley was more pointed: “Releasing a plan without negotiating with Palestinians isn’t diplomacy, it’s a planned distraction. I reject this pro annexation plan, it is a step in the wrong direction.

Among the Democratic presidential candidates, all were critical of the Trump plan, but Elizabeth Warren and especially Bernie Sanders stood out. Here is the statement by Sanders::

“Any acceptable peace deal must be consistent with international law and multiple UN Security Council resolutions. It must end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and enable Palestinian self-determination in an independent, democratic, economically viable state of their own alongside a secure and democratic state of Israel. Trump’s so-called ‘peace deal’ doesn’t come close, and will only perpetuate the conflict, and undermine the security interests of Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians. It is unacceptable.”

Senators Sanders and Warren had previously stated that they were open to considering making US aid to Israel at least partly conditional on its actions toward the Palestinians; Pete Buttigieg had once suggested the same but since flip-flopped. The other major candidates – Biden and Klobuchar — were critical of the Trump plan but their campaigns have generally staked out a more pro-Israel attitude than the progressive candidates. (Biden has a rather disturbing record on this issue – see here).

Twelve Senators signed a letter initiated by Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) criticizing Trump’s plan as a measure that would promote the “disregard of international law.” The signers included Sanders and Warren, but not Klobuchar or Markey.

There is little question that among the Democratic candidates the positions advocated by Bernie Sanders – though not everything we could hope for on our issue – are by far the most promising toward a meaningful change in US policy. He has also garnered the support of the most outspoken supporters of Palestinian rights in Congress.

We don’t know at this time of any measures in Congress that would oppose the Trump plan, but your representatives should be encouraged to speak up.  If there is any specific action on this issue we will send an e-alert.