Finally, muscular two-state U.S. legislation has been introduced. Biden must back it
“I support a two-state solution.” Great to hear! But unless the year is 1993, it’s hardly a bold statement.
The two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has sadly become one of the many causes that politicians love to say they support but then do little or nothing to actively advance.
Nowhere has this dynamic been more evident than on Capitol Hill, where there is no shortage of occupation-deniers, and — on both sides of the aisle — an even larger lip-service caucus. Democrats and Republicans both have members who mouth superficial support for a two-state solution while opposing any actions that might actually move us in that direction.
Meanwhile, the goal of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement based on the creation of a Palestinian state that lives in peace and security alongside Israel is becoming increasingly distant.
The good news is that there are also members of Congress who are willing not only to speak up in support of two states, but also back that up with policies that carry clear, actionable incentives and deterrents.
Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat, introduced on Sept. 23 a bold initiative of this sort, properly titled the Two-State Solution Act. The bill includes a list of practical measures, sticks as well as carrots, aimed at turning stated American support of a two-state solution into concrete action.
The bill clarifies the distinction between Israel and the occupied West Bank by reversing the Trump administration’s efforts to legitimize Israeli settlements. It does so by reimplementing a geographic restriction that prevented taxpayer-funded U.S.-Israel binational foundations from supporting projects conducted in the West Bank. The legislation would also reverse the 11th-hour change former President Trump introduced to the U.S. Customs and Labeling law, which allowed goods produced in settlements to be labeled “Made in Israel.”
Congressman Levin’s new bill additionally restricts U.S. security assistance from being used to annex any part of the West Bank or exercise Israeli permanent control over it, including settlement expansion, evictions and demolitions of Palestinian communities. It also outlines the need for programs to promote Palestinian human rights and strengthen Palestinian civil society.
And the bill provides incentives for the Palestinian Authority to comply with the Taylor Force Act — the U.S. law that bars it from paying stipends to individuals who commit acts of terrorism and to the families of deceased terrorists — in a way that would allow for the reopening of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.
These steps are long overdue. Yet the status-quo lobby in Washington opposes Levin’s bill. This proves that many members’ “support” for two-states has long been hollow.
The introduction of this bill reflects a major transformation in U.S. public opinion on the Mideast conflict. This transformation has been fueled largely by progressives, but it is also evident across the political spectrum.
A fascinating survey recently published by the University of North Carolina at Pembroke shows that even among Christian evangelicals — the core of the U.S. ideological-support base of ultra-nationalist anti-peace Israelis — there is an ongoing trend backing a more balanced U.S. role in the conflict and in support of Palestinian rights and self-determination.
Such expressions of spurning the status quo, of rejecting Israel’s de-facto annexation of the West Bank, are important not only for the sake of protest or catharsis. They are vital for the purpose of disrupting the comfort zone of Israeli-Palestinian inaction that the Biden Administration seems to be defaulting to.
It is clear from public statements that the current administration is focusing on improving Palestinian quality of life under occupation, rather than fighting to end the occupation or halting practices that undermine future two-state diplomacy.
The moment for a transformative and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace deal may not be here now. But U.S. policy is clear and unequivocal: in favor of a two-state solution. Representative Levin and his colleagues have laid down a marker showing us what that looks like. Now President Biden needs to pick it up and act.
To contact the author, email [email protected].