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Peace in the Middle East? Why Trump, Clinton Are Unlikely to Help

The ability to help broker a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has evaded every American president since the Johnson administration strengthened ties with Israel following the 1967 War between Israel and neighboring Arab countries. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has touted her record of negotiating ceasefires after various upticks of violence, while businessman Donald Trump has called solving the conflict the “ultimate deal.”

However, if the newly formed Democratic and Republican Party platforms are any indication, don’t expect the next president to create much change on the issue.

The Democratic platform supports a two-state solution that “guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.” It is vague on any specifics of the conflict beyond declaring that dividing Jerusalem should be a matter for final status negotiations while also recommending it remains an undivided city.

Sanders on Israel and the Democratic Platform 1:44

While the Democratic platform vaguely supports the United States' decades-old stance on the conflict, the Republican platform implicitly abandons it.

The document “reject[s] the false notion that Israel is an occupier” and calls for halting any government funding to bodies that grant Palestinians membership as a state. This is also the only time the platform makes any mention of Palestinians.

Both platforms explicitly mention supporting Israel’s security and maintaining a strong diplomatic relationship.

Image: A Palestinian girl stands on a floor of a damaged building in Gaza
A Palestinian girl stands on a floor of a damaged apartment block, which was partially destroyed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, on Feb. 22, 2016. Hatem Moussa / AP, file

“What we saw in both parties was a deliberate and public effort to ensure that the platforms signaled a rock solid-commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship,” said Omri Ceren, a managing director at The Israel Project. “I’d say that it was heartening that there was a policy consensus across the party platforms that reaffirmed steadfast U.S. support of Israel.”

Others were not as pleased.

“I don’t think the Republican platform shows any interest in moving the peace process forward, and, in fact, basically rejects the two-state solution, which has been the object of the peace process,” said John Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. “It makes it quite clear that Israel … is entitled to incorporate the West Bank into a Greater Israel. Once you go down that road, the two-state solution is impossible.”

Related: Democrats Advance Most Progressive Platform in Party History

The term “Greater Israel” is often used to refer to a Jewish state that would include all land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Many groups also take issue with the Democratic platform, arguing that while the Republicans are going in the wrong direction, Clinton’s party isn’t going far enough.

“I think the one striking thing is that the word occupation was not used. I know that was a big fight in the platform drafting commission,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). “In the end, the word occupation couldn’t be used — it’s widely recognized, in terms of international law, the case is completely clear.” JVP is a nonprofit organization that does not endorse any candidate for president.

The next president will surely be unable to solve the conflict by him or herself. He or she will have to ensure that both the Israeli and Palestinian governments are willing participants to any peace process. However, Clinton or Trump could make a concerted effort to renew serious negotiations toward peace.

Yet it is clear that neither platform advocates for the U.S. to exert pressure on Israel to change its policy on settlement expansion, a practice that has repeatedly stalled any attempt to further peace negotiations.

Image: A Palestinian boy looks up during a rain storm while  walking through a neighborhood
A Palestinian boy looks up during a rain storm while walking through a neighborhood destroyed during the 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City on October 19, 2014. MAHMUD HAMS / AFP - Getty Images, file

According to the CIA, roughly 2.8 million Palestinians lived in the West Bank in 2015 alongside nearly 400,000 settlers. Settlements are widely viewed by the international legal community as violating the Geneva Convention. The platforms’ ignoring of this fact may represent an unwillingness to tackle what some have called the greatest obstacle to peace.

“The problem is once you create a Greater Israel, you will eventually reach a point when you have more Palestinians than Jews within the borders of that state,” he said. “And when those Palestinians are treated like second-class if not third-class citizens, more people will say that Israel is an apartheid state.”

Khaled Elgindy, a fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, agrees that neither platform will be effective.

“They’re both deficient. One is egregious in its state of denial, the other is a perpetuation of the status quo, which is a policy failure. When it’s translated into policy, it hasn’t worked,” he said.

However, party platforms, while representative of partisan politics at the time, are more often than not symbolic and rarely have serious implications on policy once a candidate actually takes over the Oval Office.

For instance, the 2008 Democratic Party platform read, “The creation of a Palestinian state through final status negotiations, together with an international compensation mechanism, should resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees by allowing them to settle there, rather than in Israel.” Yet the issue of refugees was never seriously negotiated during Obama’s tenure in office.

Related: Democrats' Platform Calls for End to Death Penalty

Lobbying groups have contributed greatly to the rigidity of U.S. policy toward Israel over the past few decades. Organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Christians United for Israel, among others, make large donations in an attempt to support pro-Israeli causes.

Israel is already the biggest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, bringing in roughly $3 billion each year. However, this policy and the vows of each party to staunchly support Israel appear to increasingly be out of touch with the desires of the electorate.

A 2015 poll by Brookings fellow Shibley Telhami shows that 66 percent of Americans prefer the U.S. not lean toward either side of the conflict.

Given the platforms’ stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it appears that it may be up to activists to push for any desired change in American policy.

“You have the party activists ahead of the elites and I think that is probably applicable for any social change. It has to happen in the grassroots first and policy follows,” Vilkomerson said. “But four years from now, eight years from now, 12 years from now, we’ll see more of the impact of the political change at the grassroots level being reflected at the policy level.”