When it comes to the heated debate over US foreign policy in the Middle East, there’s one position that has generally won consensus support over the past few decades: commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Up until the Trump Administration, American presidents of both parties were clear in their support for the ultimate creation of an independent Palestinian state on a large portion of the territory beyond the Green Line held under military occupation by Israel. And while many Republicans under the influence of Trump and his allies have increasingly moved to embrace the Israeli far-right’s vision of permanent de facto annexation and permanent occupation in the West Bank, the Democratic party at least remains almost totally united in support of two states.
In December 2019, nearly every Democrat in the House voted to pass House Resolution 326, which affirmed that “only a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can ensure Israel’s survival as a secure Jewish and democratic state and fulfill the legitimate aspirations for a Palestinian state.” The 2020 Democratic platform included support for “a negotiated two-state solution that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state with recognized borders and upholds the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.” In the American Jewish community too, two states is highly popular — with support from 75% of Jewish voters according to Election Day 2020 polling commissioned by J Street.
For the overwhelming majority of Democratic elected officials and American Jewish, pro-Israel advocacy groups, however, the most important question isn’t whether you say that you support a two-state solution. The fundamental question is — what do you believe the United States should be doing to help make it possible, and to push back against harmful policies that deliberately undermine the chances for Israel-Palestinian peace and Palestinian statehood?
For much of the past decade, American leaders have touted their support for the two-state framework, while watching largely in silence as Israeli government policies of settlement expansion, home demolitions, and displacement of Palestinian families entrenched the occupation and made a two-state agreement less and less likely. Today, while some in Israel’s new governing coalition maintain a preference for a negotiated two-state peace, these policies of de facto annexation continue to move forward and the occupation is deepening at an alarming rate. The current Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has made clear that he not only opposes a two-state solution, but refuses to even consider entering into peace negotiations.
Critically, a number of leading lawmakers are committed to confronting this reality head-on — and making sure that their commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace goes beyond mere rhetoric. Rep. Andy Levin, a progressive Jewish Member of Congress from Michigan, joined with many of his colleagues to introduce the Two-State Solution Act, a landmark piece of legislation specifically designed to promote peace and discourage steps that push it out of reach. Upon introducing the bill, Levin made clear: “We can no longer claim credibly to support a two-state solution without taking steps to bring one about.”
The Two-State Solution Act has already been co-sponsored by 39 members of the House and has the support of pro-Israel, pro-peace groups like J Street, T’ruah and Americans for Peace Now. Yet, frustratingly, it faces opposition from some pro-Israel groups that claim to be committed to a two-state solution — and even some that claim to oppose settlement expansion.
Democratic Majority for Israel, an AIPAC-aligned group whose PAC has focused heavily on attacking progressive Democrats and attempting to make Israel a wedge issue in Democratic primaries, claims to support “a two-state solution and Arab-Israeli peace through diplomacy and partnership.” It claims to “oppose new settlements and annexation.” Yet the group has made “Opposing The ‘Two-State Solution Act’” a top priority — because the bill honestly and pragmatically names and pushes back on the harmful impact of Israeli government policy in the occupied territory.
Another pro-Israel group states that its core mission is to “mobilize support among American Jewish leaders and U.S. policymakers for the realization of a viable two-state solution.” Yet when faced with comprehensive legislation designed to do just that, the group has chosen to lobby Hill offices against it. They primarily object to the bill’s provision that would clarify restrictions on US aid to Israel to ensure that it is used only for legitimate security purposes — and not for expanding settlements and rendering permanent Israeli control over occupied territory.
This group states that “[Settlement] activity beyond the major settlement blocs and provocative construction in predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem are counterproductive to the cause of peace.” Yet they evidently think it’s acceptable for American funds to support such activity, or at least that it would be harmful for the US government to take meaningful action to restrict our aid from being used for such harmful ends.
No piece of legislation could ever satisfy everyone, and advocates can always respectfully disagree on questions of policy. But it’s crucial to ask how groups that support the two-state solution and oppose the impact of settlements and annexation can continue to advocate for the same US policies that have failed to prevent the occupation from growing deeper, the Israeli settlement movement from growing more powerful, and the prospect of a viable two-state solution from growing more and more distant.
It should be clear to all those who care about the future of Israel as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people that the situation in the region is dangerous, unjust, and getting worse by the day. As the global superpower, Israel’s closest ally, and the largest provider of security assistance to Israel, the United States has the responsibility and influence needed to take serious action to help improve the situation, before it’s too late. That’s precisely what the Two-State Solution Act is all about.
Those who recognize and oppose the dire situation in the region should put their weight behind bold US policies to generate progress, and stop working to perpetuate a failed status quo.
Logan Bayroff is J Street’s Vice President of Communications