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It goes without saying that the U.S. government has for years favored Israeli interests over those of the Palestinian people. The American-Israeli alliance is a very powerful one, and this coupled with strong support from the extensive American Jewish community tends to result in support of Israel being a sort of litmus test for ambitious politicians on the national stage.
Currently, though, the position of the White House with regard to this ever-controversial matter is facing more scrutiny than usual. This is because of what many perceive to be open Islamophobia on the part of the Donald Trump White House and some who support it. Most recently, this was on display in Trump’s criticisms of Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Omar has become something of a lightning rod in her short time in the House of Representatives, which also means she’s become a favorite target for right-wing politicians and news outlets who seek to paint her as a radical.
The recent criticism from Trump had nothing to do with Israel-Palestine tension specifically but spoke to the way in which some on the political right currently view Arabs and Arab Americans. It’s not a stretch to say that while neither Republican nor Democratic administrations have ever been friends to Palestine, the current White House is unusually hostile toward the Arab world – or at least the parts of it that it doesn’t directly profit from.
Now, it could be that this hostility won’t be an issue for much longer. Trump is facing a difficult reelection campaign in 2020, and recent events have once again raised the question of whether he could even be impeached before then. It’s unlikely given that the president’s party controls the Senate, but the public release of the long-awaited Mueller report has revealed strong – if not conclusive – evidence of crimes. The odds on a Trump impeachment have not been as strong (or sparked as much discussion) as they did early in his presidency, but one might expect to see them tick up in light of this report.
Either way, this makes the vast field of Democratic presidential candidates vying for the nomination in 2020 even more important. Whichever candidate wins will either be taking on Trump directly or seeking to seize the White House amidst the turmoil of impeachment proceedings or possibly (though not likely) even the beginning of a Mike Pence presidency. In this specific case, it’s hard to imagine any Democratic challenger being more dismissive of or harmful to the Arab community. But as we get closer and closer to the next battle for the White House, it is worth looking into how the candidates line up specifically regarding Israel-Palestine relations.
Here’s a look at what we know regarding some of the figures who are considered to be main contenders.
Joe Biden – The former vice president is on record on numerous occasions supporting a two-state solution. While he by no means bucks the trend of American politicians at the highest level supporting Israel, he has spoken at the AIPAC conference and even there pushed Israel and those who support it to embrace the same idea of a two-state solution.
Bernie Sanders – Bernie Sanders made headlines by skipping AIPAC altogether in 2016, seemingly paving the way for more candidates to do so this year. He has a powerful voice as the most prominent Jewish politician in America today and has used that voice to be sharply critical of Israeli actions on occasion. He has at times been light on specifics regarding his goals for the region, and some believe his actions don’t match his words. But he at least projects sympathy for the Palestinian side of the conflict.
Kamala Harris – Senator Kamala Harris doesn’t have particularly clear or well-known stances on the conflict. She’s seen as a supporter of Israel to the extent that most U.S. politicians feel they have to be, but frankly, there’s little to suggest strong leanings in one direction or the other. At this point, she seems about as neutral as a prominent politician could be on all of it.
Beto O’Rourke – O’Rourke, a former congressman from Texas, hasn’t had as much time on the national stage as most of the others here. So far though he’s been sharply critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, setting himself up to adopt a position that may well become the norm among Democrats: critical of current leadership and conflict, but still supportive of Israel in general. O’Rourke has criticized Palestinian leadership as well, ultimately conveying that he sees a need for change from both sides of the constant conflict.
Elizabeth Warren – Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has perhaps the most complex positions on record regarding these issues. On the one hand, she strongly supported U.S. funding for Israel during the Gaza conflicts in 2014; on the other, she’s recently been far more critical of Israel and has called for action against the killing of Palestinian civilians. More generally, she’s on record supporting a two-state solution.
There may not be a candidate among them who strikes an ideal note among those who wish to see a more balanced approach from the U.S. They do, however, seem to be trending in that direction as a group. Following the positions and rhetoric of the current administration, any of these candidates would be in a position to take a more constructive and unbiased approach. But it will be interesting to see how they evolve further, if at all, on ever-complicated Israel-Palestine questions.