Where Do The Candidates Stand On The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

Where Do The Candidates Stand On The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

This week, President Bush kicked off a six-nation tour of the Middle East with a visit to Israel and the West Bank in an effort to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. President Bush encouraged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make difficult concessions in order to create a “lasting peace” that has proven to be out of reach. And in a new step, he called for the end of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

President Bush’s sudden sense of urgency, initiated at the Annapolis, Md. conference in November 2007, marked a different tempo and attitude from an administration that has placed Iraq and the “war on terror” as its foreign policy priorities. The President’s efforts come as a positive step for peace in a process that has largely been immobilized for the last seven years.

Against this backdrop, the presidential candidates find themselves in a delicate situation with regard to their position on U.S.-Israel relations. Throughout this election cycle, most have been generally careful not to show disapproval of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories for fear of disgruntlement from Israel’s supporters and the loss of important votes and endorsements. As such, all but a handful of the contenders have touted the “safe” American foreign policy line, declaring their unconditional support for Israel.

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) could have been a leading voice among this complacent group. In an address to Arab and Israeli youth at a peace summit in Switzerland in 1998, the former First Lady expressed her support for a future state of Palestine. “I think that it will be in the long term interests of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state,” she remarked. “I think that is very important for the Palestinian people, but I also think it is very important for the broader goal of peace in the Middle East.”

Fast forward ten years, and Senator Clinton the presidential candidate is almost unrecognizable. She was silent on the renewed U.S. effort for peace at the Annapolis conference. On the other hand, Senator Clinton has voiced firm support for Israel and condemned the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah, dismissing them as terrorist groups without taking Israel to task for violating the United Nations resolutions calling for the dismantling of settlements and ordering its withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, among other provisions.

The minority voices on this issue—Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and former Senator Mike Gravel (D-AK)—have challenged America’s alliance with Israel. They have utilized the high-profile platform of the presidential election to demand change in the present terms in the U.S.-Israel alliance, demanding accountability and increased self-sufficiency to govern the relationship.

For the U.S. to broker an agreement between Israel and Palestine, presidential candidates and public officeholders must extend the negotiating circle in its membership and issues if peace—and not politics—is a priority for America in the Middle East.