We were perplexed by the absence of U.S. Middle East policy in the Democratic Party primary debates. The moderators didn’t ask any questions on this subject, and none of the candidates tried to insinuate it into the discussion. Not too long ago, no mention of the Israel-Palestinian conflict would have been unthinkable.
By any measure, President Trump shook things up in the Middle East, veering sharply from – not only the policies of the Obama era – but also earlier administrations as well. And the developing Democratic Party’s estrangement from Israel, egged on by its leftist corner, is obvious. So one would think that reconsideration of Trump’s changes would be on the minds of those who wish to be president and, hence, their interrogators as well.
Yet, nothing. There was also nothing about the related issue of U.S.-Iran policy. One would have expected that the fierce partisan battle over the Iran nuclear deal would perforce mean that Trump’s withdrawal from it would have been a topic of discussion. Yet, it wasn’t.
Nevertheless, what the candidates think about the state of U.S. Mideast policy is important, and we would like them to answer the following questions: Would they reverse the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Would they reopen the PLO diplomatic office in Washington? Would they rescind recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan? Would they reenter the Iran nuclear deal? Would they continue Trump’s cutbacks to Palestinian aid over violations of U.S. conditions, as mandated by law – or would they ignore them as his predecessors did?
These are not merely “political” questions. Many of us continue to believe that Trump’s Mideast policies are the last best hope for achieving peace in the Middle East. To be sure, his bold steps certainly shook things up and fed charges that we have compromised our role as an honest broker. But the benefits of the pre-Trump Mideast approach are hard to identify.
Decades of so-called honest brokering did not bring about any real breakthroughs; indeed, they were counterproductive. As this page has noted on several occasions, the Palestinians came to believe that U.S. involvement meant they did not have to come to terms with an Israel that had vast leverage as a genuine military and economic power. America was seen more as the Palestinians’ shield than as a neutral interlocutor and could be counted on to reward their recalcitrance by pressuring Israel into ever-greater concessions.
To be sure, abortion, alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Trump campaign “collusion” and “obstruction” also weren’t part of the debates. But that only serves to underscore our concern that something other than lack of interest was at play.