Will the GOP Own Its Position on Israel-Palestine?

Gingrich busters

Gingrich busters

Cross-posted from IPS Special Project Right Web’s Militarist Monitor.

Last week, blogger and Inter Press Service correspondent Mitchell Plitnick reported that an otherwise little-noted Republican National Committee (RNC) meeting in New Orleans produced a potential foreign-policy firebomb: a unanimously adopted resolution apparently disavowing the party’s commitment to a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine and endorsing the Israeli annexation of the Palestinian territories.

The relevant text reads: “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that … Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others; and that peace can be afforded the region only through a united Israel governed under one law for all people.”

The curious trope that Israel is “neither an attacking force nor an occupier” harkens to an annexationist, right-wing audience that sees the West Bank in particular—or “Judea and Samaria”—as an integral part of Greater Israel, meaning the Israeli soldiers there in abundance are not properly foreigners but locals (the occupation itself notwithstanding). Proponents of this worldview often further suggest that the Palestinians themselves are “occupiers,” as implied by GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich when he called Palestinians an “invented people” who had missed their “chance to go many other places.” Although Palestinian lands are considered occupied territories under international law, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a standing ovation from the U.S. Congress when he declared, “in Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers.”

The allusion to “one law for all people” is quite clear about the number of states the GOP would favor in the region, but it leaves unresolved questions about the final status of Palestinians. Would they be fully absorbed and assimilated into a democratic Israel, or would they live on as second-class citizens, a potential Arab majority in an officially Jewish state? Might they be expelled from the region altogether?

Plitnick himself speculated that the RNC activists “do not understand the implications of their resolution and that it would mean either the end of Israel as a Jewish state or would necessitate the mass expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank.” Indeed, an RNC spokesman played down the report, noting that the official platform, which currently calls for “two democratic states living in peace and security,” can only be formally amended at the presidential nominating convention. But the unanimous one-state resolution speaks volumes about the attitudes of the GOP base toward Israel-Palestine.

One wonders why the party would seek to downplay this shift away from the two-state formula, which is already apparent in deed if not word. In addition to the party’s grassroots, its presidential candidates (at least the ones who aren’t Ron Paul) have been utterly unshy about advocating a pro-settlement policy in the West Bank that would render a viable two-state solution completely unworkable.

In addition to his other impolitic remarks, for example, Gingrich has expressed his support for “development in the [occupied] areas” as a way for the Israelis to “[maximize] their net bargaining advantage”—acknowledging but not condemning the fact that the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories makes good-faith negotiation about the division of land impossible. Mitt Romney has criticized President Barack Obama for supposedly going “to the United Nations to criticize Israel for building settlements” in the West Bank, despite the fact that the Obama administration actually spent considerable diplomatic capital to veto a UN resolution condemning the settlements in defiance of its own stated policy. Most curiously, Rick Santorum has claimed—and repeatedly refused to clarify—that “all the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis, they’re not Palestinians.”

Perhaps the GOP’s reluctance to embrace its own one-state bent is purely tactical. If the party can continue to claim support for a stagnant “peace process” geared toward the eventual creation of a Palestinian state—all the while supporting the settlement program that has fatally hamstringed recent negotiations—it can continue to place the onus on Palestinians to recognize Israel’s “right to exist” as “a Jewish state,” and even to end their supposed “war on Israel,” as though these were the crucial stumbling blocks. Nominally clinging to the two-state formula enables Republicans to shirk tougher questions about the fate of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza that would inevitably arise should the party fully back a one-state solution.

Of course, if even the right-wing Israeli government is unwilling to own its positions on these matters, one could hardly expect better of today’s Republican Party.