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Pro-palestinian Proposal Rejected, but Arabs Claim ‘moral Victory’

May 2, 1988
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The California Democratic Party voted Saturday to reject a proposed platform amendment calling on the United States to support Palestinian statehood and an international peace conference.

But despite the party executive board’s rejection of the amendment, by a 4-1 vote, both pro-Israel and pro-Arab groups agree that the serious consideration given the proposal represented a significant display of pro-Palestinian sentiment among the state’s Democrats.

That the issue was debated at all was a “moral victory,” according to Salam Al Marayati, the originator of the amendment.

“We have ended the deadly silence,” said Marayati, public relations director of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Political Action Committee. “We wanted the policy debated and we got it. A new chapter to the story of establishing a balanced U.S. policy in the Middle East has been written.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who as vice dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles was one of the leaders of the fierce Jewish opposition to the campaign, called the proposal’s progress “distressing.”

Cooper linked the move in part to the success of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign with left-of-center voters. The Wiesenthal Center opposes Jackson’s candidacy, saying that he has “shown no understanding” of the American-Israeli relationship.

“It may be a portent of some of the things that will happen in a national convention,” Cooper said of the proposal. He believes such an amendment would undermine Israel while rewarding the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The original proposal was presented by the Arab American Democratic Federation in March at the State Democratic Convention in Palm Springs.


The proposed amendment read, “We support a policy which supports the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and statehood in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, and by calling for an international peace conference to negotiate all outstanding issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Party officials at the convention blocked a floor debate on the proposal, however. In a memorandum to the Platform Committee in April, the state party chairman, Peter Kelly, wrote that the amendment request “represents a drastic and radical change” to the current platform draft and “runs counter to all previous stands of the Democratic Party going back more than 40 years.”

The amendment’s supporters persisted, gathering the signatures of approximately one third of the 900 to 1,000 state convention delegates on a petition supporting full discussion of the amendment.

The petition allowed debate on the proposal at Saturday’s executive board meeting in San Jose.

In their own letter to executive board members, supporters said the amendment is “not drastic” and that, with the exception of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud bloc, it has “in one form or another” been embraced “by all parties to the conflict, including the U.S.”

Still, opponents of the proposal included most of California’s leading Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston, Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, Attorney General John Van de Kamp and Comptroller Gray Davis, according to the Los Angeles Times.


Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the front-runner in the Democratic presidential campaign, indicated in a message to the executive board that he was opposed to the amendment.

Yet Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center believes the proposal will play a significant role in California’s upcoming presidential primary. “When Governor Dukakis arrives in California to start his campaigning, a lot of people are going to want to know specifically what he thought of that proposal.”

James Zogby, director of the Arab American Institute in Washington, said in a telephone interview that the rejection of the proposal did not represent a defeat. Zogby is lobbying Democratic leaders in a number of states to include what he called a more “balanced discussion” of Middle East policy in their platforms.

“If it is a defeat for anybody, then it’s a defeat for the Palestinians, the Israelis and the Democratic Party,” said Zogby. “We say, ‘Give us a free debate. Let people talk about it.’ The Peter Kellys are afraid of a free debate, because they know that they probably cannot win.”

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