What a difference four years makes. In 2008, the Democratic Party’s platform vowed “an active role” in aiding the procurement of “a lasting settlement” in the region. That accord would provide closure for Palestinian refugees via “an international compensation mechanism” and the creation of a democratic and viable homeland. The platform made reference to “the armistice lines of 1949” and favoured Jerusalem remaining the capital of Israel.
Intransigence in Israel, unilateral manoeuvres by the Palestinian Authority, and the aftershocks of the Arab Spring meant the first four years of Barack Obama’s presidency was mostly a bust for Middle East peace. And most if not all of these fairly bold pronouncements have been erased in the Democrats’ freshly-published 2012 party platform. Even though the party still supports “a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples”, the United States’ active role has been substituted for “continuing to encourage all parties to be resolute in the pursuit of peace”.
The focus instead has shifted to the “unshakable commitment to Israel’s security”. The platform’s authors note that, despite budgetary constraints, “the President has worked with Congress to increase security assistance to Israel every single year since taking office, providing nearly $10 billion in the past three years” including for the Iron Dome missile defence shield. “The President’s consistent support for Israel’s right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage” – including the push for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations – “are further evidence of our enduring commitment to Israel’s security.”
This is not to say that President Obama will not push for Middle East peace in his second term. Indeed, precedent suggests that presidents are far more likely to advocate the difficult compromises necessary to fashion a just peace in their second term than in their first. President Clinton came closest to a concord in 2000 at Camp David, while President Bush did not convene the Annapolis Conference until the end of 2007.
Rather, the shift in emphasis from peace to security is a reflection of the current conditions on the ground in the Middle East, and of election year politics back home. The paramount preoccupation of the Netanyahu government, of the Israeli public, and of Israel’s friends in the United States at this time is not the two-state solution – the state of play on the West Bank being stable – but the threat of a nuclear Iran. And it is of grave concern to the Obama administration too, The New York Times having reported that the United States is due to initiate naval exercises and installation of anti-missile defence systems in the Persian Gulf imminently.
It is also, surely, a reaction to the hammering Obama received from the Romney campaign and rightist supporters of Israel such as the Emergency Committee for Israel over perceived missteps made during his first term, including a very public expounding of the need for Israel to return to the 1967 borders with mutually-agreed swaps and his failure to move the nation’s embassy to Jerusalem (both continuations of existing U.S. policy). To campaign openly on the two-state solution would leave Obama open to continued attacks on his record. Thus, when it comes to Israel, he and his party have turned to the one issue he cannot be criticised for: national security.