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Reagan recognized the PLO. The first Bush convened the Madrid Conference. The second Bush conceived of the “Roadmap to Peace.” For decades, Middle East diplomacy has been a consensus objective of Republican presidents. And it’s this pragmatic tradition that brings me and my colleague, J Street Vice President of Government Affairs Dylan Williams, to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention this week.
Fortunately, the GOP has not completely shed its realist wing when it comes to Middle East policy. After all, some party elders like former Senator Dick Lugar and National Security Advisor Brent Scrowcroft bucked partisan orthodoxy to back the recent Iran nuclear agreement, recognizing its ability to block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon without firing a single shot.
That said, Republican efforts at Middle East diplomacy all too often seem like a distant memory with the 2016 cycle now fully underway. Already, many of Donald Trump’s Convention speakers have joined his call to tear up the Iran deal on “Day One” of the next administration from the stage in Cleveland.
And, let’s not forget, this Republican platform is the most extreme on Israeli/Palestinian issues in history. It fails to endorse a two-state solution or even mention the Palestinians, while alleging that Israel is not an occupier. This comes after Trump has endorsed settlement expansion and a key advisor of his has questioned whether advancing a two-state outcome would remain US policy under a Trump Administration.
The Republican Party has a choice to make. Under intense pressure to moderate, will the GOP reorient in the direction of pragmatic supporters of diplomacy like Lugar and Scrowcroft, or will it continue down the destabilizing, incoherent path Trump has thus far charted?