At Debate, Hillary Clinton's Answers on Israel Were Deeply Troubling

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders speak simultaneously during a Democrat
Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders speak simultaneously during a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Many Democrats likely felt uneasy at times during Thursday's night's presidential debate in New York. Bernie Sanders once again fell back on his flashy slogans without showcasing any ability to deliver specifics. Hillary Clinton, for her part, had trouble distancing herself from her close ties to Wall Street.

But especially for me -- a Clinton supporter and a strong believer that a two-state solution is the only viable path forward for Israel -- it was the exchange over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was the most revealing. Clinton's record as Secretary of State indicates strong support for a two-state solution and a willingness to fight for it, so it was surprising, and troubling, to listen to Clinton's rhetoric perfectly align with three flawed logical frameworks consistently employed by those seeking to squander a peace deal. Here they are:

1. Painting concerns regarding the general well-being of Palestinians and Israel's use of force as ignorant about the threats posed by Palestinian violence, even though Israel's right to defend itself has not been disputed.

Wolf Blizter, the moderator of Thursday's debate, opened the discussion with a question about Sanders's past comment that Israel's use of force in the summer of 2014 was disproportionate. Sanders defended his past remarks, clearly outlining what he sees as Israel's unquestionable right to defend itself:

"Well, as somebody who spent many months of my life when I was a kid in Israel, who has family in Israel, of course Israel has a right not only to defend themselves, but to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attack. That is not a debate...But we had in the Gaza area -- not a very large area -- some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed."

Then came Clinton's response:

"They [Israel] do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages. They do not believe that there should be a constant incitement by Hamas aided and abetted by Iran against Israel...So, I don't know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist attacks, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself."

The audience applauded because, of course, no one defends attacking innocent Israelis. But the problem is that it had nothing to do with the question. The question was about the use of "disproportionate force," not no force at all, yet by using that lens, Clinton was able to deflect any reasonable criticism of Israel's actions. This is a very recognizable tactic utilized by those seeking to shield Israeli from any criticism, no matter how slight or qualified.

2. Reducing the infinitely complex history of peace negotiations down to a blame game of yes-or-no.

As public opinion throughout the world has rapidly shifted towards support for a two-state solution, the rhetoric has shifted away from whether or not Palestinians are deserving of a state to whether or not a Palestinian state is viable. That's why so much of the discussion centers around the construction of settlements and the recognition of Israel by Palestinians as a Jewish state -- they are both questions of whether or not the other side is serious and committed to a two-state solution.

Working within this framework, Clinton threw her support on the side of Israel's staunchest defenders, those who say working towards a Palestinian state is futile because the Palestinians don't really want it. She did so just as the right-wing does, by qualifying support for a two-state solution with Palestinian blame:

"It also does not mean that we should not continue to do everything we can to try to reach a two-state solution, which would give the Palestinians the rights and the autonomy that they deserve. And, let me say this, if Yasser Arafat had agreed with my husband at Camp David in the late 1990s to the offer then Prime Minister Barak put on the table, we would have had a Palestinian state for 15 years."

Invoking Camp David is a favorite for those arguing against two states, because public memory indicates that Arafat walked away from the most generous deal ever offered to Palestinians. That record is far more complicated than opponents of a two-state solution are willing to admit, but Camp David is still constantly used as evidence that Palestinians simply hide behind the two-state solution as a method to undermine Israel's legitimacy.

3. Creating a false-equivalency between the disengagement of Gaza and a hypothetical peace deal.

Another recognizable argument revolves around Israel's disengagement from Gaza and the subsequent take-over by Hamas, the terrorist group that consistently targets Israeli civilians. Gaza is cited as additional evidence that a two-state solution is non-viable: "We tried it in Gaza," the thinking goes, "and look what happened." Indeed, Clinton's arguments lined up perfectly:

"...remember, Israel left Gaza. They took out all the Israelis. They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people. And what happened? Hamas took over Gaza. So instead of having a thriving economy with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven that is getting more and more rockets shipped in from Iran and elsewhere."

Yet that analysis is immensely inadequate. A two-state solution is enormously different from a disengagement. One is a mutual recognition of wrong-doing, along with a sustained economic and political effort to bring about prosperity and security for two peoples. The other is a unilateral plan to get out of a bad situation, to wipe the slate clean and move on.

In Gaza, there was no long-term commitment to improve the lives of Gazans. Instead, an enduring blockade and constant war have left the densely-populated land completely decimated. It's hard to see how the disengagement of Gaza could have left behind the Palestinian utopia Clinton envisions, or how the unique situation there can be applied anywhere else.

With the American economy still slogging along, and with terrorist attacks ravaging Europe, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will surely take a back-seat in this election. Yet the next president will likely have a unique chance to bring about peace, and history indicates we need even-handedness and recognition of shared wrong-doing to get there. Narrow, willfully uninformed pandering by the person most likely to be that next president makes it all the more likely that we will, once again, be unable to seize the opportunity