Democrats Poised for Heated Debate on Israel, Free Trade at Final Platform Meeting

Sanders and Clinton supporters continue to disagree on key issues.

ByNoah Fitzgerel
July 06, 2016, 11:31 AM
PHOTO: Hillary Clinton, left, and Bernie Sanders, right.
Hillary Clinton, left, and Bernie Sanders, right.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images; Stephen Lam/Reuters

— -- Democrats are gearing up for a final showdown over the party platform on Friday, where a committee will meet to approve a draft that will outline the party’s goals for the next four years. All signs are pointing to a contentious meeting, specifically over positions on free trade and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Even though the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee has finalized a version of the platform, the full Platform Committee will meet this week in Orlando to approve a final version that will be ratified at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia later this month.

More battles between Clinton and Sanders supporters are likely. The Sanders campaign has already celebrated several victories in the platform draft, including language it claims reflects the campaign’s positions on Social Security, super PACs, and breaking up the big banks, according to an email the Sanders campaign sent to supporters last week. Despite these victories, Sanders appointees on the Platform Drafting Committee do not believe that the fight is over.

Israel

One area for debate will be the party’s position on Israel. Committee member and Sanders appointee James Zogby tells ABC News that “there will be a re-do of inserting the word ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’ into the platform” at the final meeting this week. These words would be added to the party’s plank on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Zogby had introduced a proposal to include language calling for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements” in the platform during the drafting process, but the proposal was not accepted.

Zogby said that a proposal to revisit the platform’s language is likely to come from the floor. Zogby also added that if a certain threshold is met after such a proposal goes up for a vote and fails, it is possible for the minority to submit a report to the national convention. He said that he is not sure whether the Sanders campaign would want to submit a report if such a scenario arises, however.

The Platform Drafting Committee’s most recent draft states that “Israelis deserve security, recognition, and a normal life free from terror and incitement. Palestinians should be free to govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.” The words “settlements” and “occupation” do not appear in the draft.

“This issue has been with us for many years. And it’s not going away,” Zogby said to ABC, discussing where he sees the debate going in the future. “I think it will be with us for a while."

“There’s a discussion about it. That’s the important part,” Zogby added.

Trade

There will also be a fight over the party’s position on free trade, specifically the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The agreement, championed by the Obama administration, has attracted ire from both sides of the aisle. Although the Sanders and Clinton campaigns have both criticized the deal, language taking a stand on the agreement was noticeably absent from the Platform Drafting Committee’s final draft.

Rather than oppose or support the agreement, the platform draft states that “On the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), there are a diversity of views in the party. Many Democrats are on record stating that the agreement does not meet the standards set out in this platform; other Democrats have expressed support for the agreement.”

The Sanders campaign has made public its intention to change the platform’s language on the TPP before it is finalized at Philadelphia’s convention. In an email to supporters last week, Sanders wrote that “we must defeat the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership," adding that "our job is to do everything we can to rally support for an amendment to the platform in strong opposition to the TPP.” The campaign promised action at the national convention if efforts to change the platform’s language at Friday’s meeting are unsuccessful. Sanders wrote “if we fail there we are going to take this fight to the floor of the Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia next month.”

The fact that stronger language on the TPP did not make it into the platform draft was an unexpected result for members of the Platform Drafting Committee. “We were surprised it didn’t pass at the platform meeting in St. Louis,” Zogby said to ABC, referring to a St. Louis meeting of the committee where language on the platform draft was finalized. “We thought that this was an area where both campaigns agreed.” Zogby speculated that opposition to stronger language on the TPP reflected a desire from the Clinton campaign to align with President Obama’s position on the deal. “They didn’t want to embarrass the president,” Zogby said.

The Sanders campaign is rallying opposition to the TPP in these last few days before the meeting. In an opinion piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on July 3, Sanders doubled down on his opposition to both the TPP and to the platform draft’s current equivocation on the matter, writing “the Democratic Party must go on record in opposition to holding a vote on this disastrous, unfettered free-trade agreement during the lame-duck session of Congress and beyond.”

ABC News’ MaryAlice Parks contributed to this report

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