Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Evenhanded Democrats

Governor Howard Dean made headlines in the run-up to the Presidential primaries a few years ago when he said that he believed that the United States should have an evenhanded approach to the Middle East. He was quickly denounced by the other candidates and leaders of the Israel Lobby. In successive days, he clarified that he meant that the United States should be seen as a fair-broker and that he endorsed the relationship to Israel held during the Clinton administration. Some of his supporters explained away his statement as a faux pas, an example of his lack of experience in International Affairs. We haven’t heard Governor Dean use the word, “Evenhanded” since.

Some of us in the Democratic Party have been dismayed by the unwillingness of the majority of our elected representatives to talk about an evenhanded approach to the Middle East, much less act in such a manner. And so, we are once again disappointed by the manner in which our Democratic Leaders quickly distanced themselves from Jimmy Carter, who in his book Palestine:Peace Not Apartheid also endorses an evenhanded approach to the Middle East:

"Until recently, America's leaders were known and expected to exert maximum influence in an objective, nonbiased way to achieve peace in the Middle East. In order to resume this vital role, the United States must be a trusted participant, evenhanded, consistent, unwavering, and enthusiastic -- a partner with both sides and not a judge of either. Although it is inevitable that at times there will be a tilt one way or the other, in the long run the role of honest broker must once again be played by Washington." (p.16.)

Weeks before Carter’s book hit the stands, possibly before they had read more than the title themselves, Democratic leaders weighed in:

“It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously”. “With all due respect to former President Carter, he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel.”
– Nancy Pelosi

“While I have tremendous respect for former President Carter, I fundamentally disagree and do not support his analysis of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. “On this issue President Carter speaks for himself, the opinions in his book are his own, they are not the views or position of the Democratic Party. I and other Democrats will continue to stand with Israel in its battle against terrorism and for a lasting peace with its neighbors.”
– Howard Dean

“I cannot agree with the book’s title and its implications about apartheid”. “I recently called the former president to express my concerns about the title of the book, and to request that the title be changed.”
– John Conyers

Given these leaders statements, one can’t be surprised by assertions like these:
“Democrats who support Jimmy Carter’s views on Israel? Now that’s a convention you could hold in a phone booth,” wrote Ira Forman, executive director of the National Democratic Jewish Council, in an e-mail to the Forward. “Jimmy Carter is out of the mainstream of the Democratic Party when it comes to his views on Israel.”

No matter what our party leaders say, some of us rank and file Democrats are foolish enough to believe that being evenhanded is a Democratic value. We are the party of Roosevelt's four freedoms and the New Deal. We are the party of the Civil Rights Act and the Great Society. We are the party of the Peace Corps, VISTA and Americorps. If being evenhanded is “out of the mainstream of the Democratic Party” then the Democratic Party needs to be reformed.

One place to start that reform is in our party’s one-sided platform on the Middle East:

The Middle East. The Democratic Party is fundamentally committed to the security of our ally Israel and the creation of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors. Our special relationship with Israel is based on the unshakable foundation of shared values and a mutual commitment to democracy, and we will ensure that under all circumstances, Israel retains the qualitative edge for its national security and its right to self-defense. Jerusalem is the capital(sic) of Israel and should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.

Under a Democratic Administration, the United States will demonstrate the kind of resolve to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that President Clinton showed. We will work to transform the Palestinian Authority by promoting new and responsible leadership, committed to fighting terror and promoting democracy. We support the creation of a democratic Palestinian state dedicated to living in peace and security side by side with the Jewish State of Israel. The creation of a Palestinian state should resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees by allowing them to settle there, rather than in Israel. Furthermore, all understand that it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949. And we understand that all final status negotiations must be mutually agreed.

Apparently, we’re also in agreement with Carter on this point. He recently opined in The Washington Post:

... with the Democratic Party poised to play a more important role in governing, this is a good time to clarify our party's overall policy in the broader Middle East. Numerous options are available as Congress attempts to correlate its suggestions with White House policy, and there is little doubt that the basic proposals of the Iraq Study Group provide a good foundation on which Democrats might reach something of a consensus (recognizing that individual lawmakers could still make their own proposals on details). This party policy would provide a reasonable answer to the allegation that Democrats have no alternatives of their own to address the Iraq quagmire.

A key factor in an Iraq policy would be strong demands on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to cooperate in ending sectarian violence, prodded by a clear notice of plans for troop withdrawals. A commitment to regional cooperation, including opportunities for Iran and Syria to participate, would be beneficial in assuring doubtful Iraqis that America will no longer be the dominant outside power shaping their military, political and economic future.

Although Israel's prime minister has criticized these facets of the Iraq Study Group's report, the most difficult recommendation for many Democrats could be the call for substantive peace talks on the Palestinian issue. The situation in the occupied territories will be a crucial factor, and it would be helpful for both the House and Senate to send a responsible delegation to the West Bank and Gaza to observe the situation personally, to meet with key leaders and to ascertain the prospects if peace talks can be launched.

So a small group of rank and file Democrats, brought together by common cause of reform, are beginning to convene in a space much smaller than a phone booth – a blog. We are continuing to post at Daily Kos because we are members of that community and because we believe that our goals of reform are consistent with the purposes of that site:

This is a Democratic blog, a partisan blog. One that recognizes that Democrats run from left to right on the ideological spectrum, and yet we're all still in this fight together. We happily embrace centrists like NDN's Simon Rosenberg and Howard Dean, conservatives like Martin Frost and Brad Carson, and liberals like John Kerry and Barack Obama. Liberal? Yeah, we're around here and we're proud. But it's not a liberal blog. It's a Democratic blog with one goal in mind: electoral victory. And since we haven't gotten any of that from the current crew, we're one more thing: a reform blog. The battle for the party is not an ideological battle. It's one between establishment and anti-establishment factions. And as I've said a million times, the status quo is untenable

We also occasionally will crosspost relevant diaries at this new site, Evenhanded Democrats. We have more room to post our favorite links here. There’s even room to fit more bloggers -- way more room than a phonebooth.


Rusty Pipes said...

Sorry Mr Kent. We may be using this booth for quite awhile.

shergald said...

Fine position statement emphasizing liberal values and principles. What Democrat cannot subscribe to it?