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Two states: alive or dead?

L-r: Ed Royce, Dennis A. Ross, Eliot Engel

L-r: Ed Royce, Dennis A. Ross, Eliot Engel

WASHINGTON — There’s a striking difference between competing bids in Congress addressing last month’s UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.

It’s not that they differ on the UN — the two nonbinding congressional resolutions condemn the Security Council, as well as the outgoing Obama administration for abstaining and not exercising the US veto.

Here’s the difference: Missing from one of the resolutions are the word “two states.” In the other resolution, the two-state outcome features prominently.

Sponsors said little on the record about the differences, but what the simultaneous introductions signal is a battle over whether it becomes US policy to regard the two-state solution as dead or alive.

In one corner is the mainstream pro-Israel community, combining leftists and centrists and led by AIPAC, seeking to preserve two states as a viable outcome for Israel and the Palestinians.

In the other is a conservative and often Orthodox minority of the American Jewish community that includes figures who are close to President-elect Donald Trump.

They want the two-state solution declared dead in order to pave the way for Israel to annex portions of the West Bank.

The winner in Round 1: AIPAC.

The Republican leadership of the incoming US House of Representatives had scheduled a vote for Thursday, Jan. 5, on the resolution being backed by the lobby.

Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, are the sponsors.

The other resolution, brought out by Rep. Dennis A. Ross, R-Fla. — the House deputy majority whip and a member of Trump’s transition team — is in limbo awaiting consideration by the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The two-state outcome appears high in the Royce-Engel resolution, in the second paragraph:

“Whereas the US has long supported a negotiated settlement leading to a sustainable two-state solution with the democratic, Jewish state of Israel and a demilitarized, democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security.”

That resolution calls on the US to seek the repeal or alteration of the Security Council resolution, so that “it is no longer one-sided and anti-Israel.”

But don’t count out the other side. Trump has nominated as ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who has been a major donor to the settlement movement; and named as his top official dealing with international relations Jason Greenblatt, who has said that settlements are not an impediment to peace.

The family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has donated to settlements.

Additionally, the Republican Party, in a platform revision this summer, removed explicit references to two states. The Republican fundraiser who helped engineer that change, Jeff Ballabon, told BuzzFeed News last weekend that now, within the GOP, “you have to justify the notion of a two-state solution.”

That might not be true yet, but the sponsors of the resolution competing with Royce’s is a who’s who of the Republican party’s anti-establishment right wing. They have scored impressive wins in recent years, not least of which is backing the winning candidate for president.

While the resolution disapproves of the UN resolution and the Obama administration’s abstention, it does not refer to the two-state solution.

“Two states” was omitted, a Ross spokeswoman said, because the resolution was more narrowly focused.

“The resolution is a very narrow response to the UN’s vote, specifically condemning President Obama’s instruction to abstain and abandon our closest ally,” Joni Shockey told JTA.

Whereas the Royce resolution emphasizes backing Israel in its quest for peace, the Ross resolution stresses the alliance, saying that Congress “affirms its commitment to the State of Israel as our loyal friend and strong ally in the Middle East.”

Senate versions of each of the House resolutions are expected to be introduced in the coming days.

Ballabon told JTA that the Ross resolution made more sense, as it focused directly on the UN Security Council Resolution 2334.

“Instead of focusing on the real crime of 2334 — its abandonment of Israel and its legitimization of ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Jewish homeland — Royce’s resolution laments the damage to the ‘two-state solution’ — the fetishized fantasy of a peaceful PLO state,” he wrote JTA in an email.

US administrations, Democratic and Republican, have embraced a two-state outcome since the early 2000s. It was the solution sought by President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000, and although George W. Bush seemed at first skeptical, he embraced the outcome by 2002.

Three rounds of failed peace talks under Clinton, then Bush, then Obama have dampened expectations that the outcome is set to arrive anytime soon.

Whether the “two state is dead” crowd wins the bigger game depends on overcoming a number of formidable obstacles. Congressional leaders, even in this polarizing era, still seek bipartisanship on Israel.

Whatever the tensions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama in recent years, congressional Democrats have shown they favor pro-Israel resolutions as long as they endorse two states.

Republican leaders like Royce and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the majority leader who announced Thursday’s vote, will always be willing to tweak language to get the overwhelming majorities that show they are bridge builders.

AIPAC’s role in this signifies the importance that the American Jewish establishment still attaches to a two-state outcome.

“Simply calling for a demilitarized and democratic Palestinian state living side by side in peace and harmony with Israel doesn’t necessarily translate into enduring reality,” American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris told JTA.

“We’re talking about the Middle East, after all. But given the weak alternatives, this approach still seems the most feasible, particularly if Israel’s Jewish and democratic character are to be preserved for future generations.”

Then there’s Netanyahu, who still embraces the notion of two states, however much his party and governing coalition have abandoned the policy.

David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Netanyahu may encourage the Trump administration to preserve two states as an outcome by reviving President George W. Bush’s 2004 approach.

In an April 14, 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Bush essentially recognized settlement blocs bordering the 1967 lines as likely to remain in Israel, and opposed expansion of settlements beyond the security fence now bisecting the West bank.

“A reaffirmation of the Bush letter would help establish US policy at a time when a US administration will be preoccupied with other more urgent priorities,” said Makovsky, who was a member of the State Department team that last tried to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace in 2013-14.

“This would be convenient for Netanyahu and Trump and would retain the viability of two states.”

Why would Trump defy his closest Jewish advisers and continue to bank on a two-state outcome? Trump has proven unpredictable. He said several times while campaigning that he would like to take a stab at this most knotty of American foreign policy challenges.

The AJC’s Harris and Makovksy, in separate interviews, cited another factor in the president-elect’s biography: He can’t resist the challenge of a deal that has so far defeated all comers.

“He’s a lifelong deal maker,” Harris said of the author of the bestselling The Art of the Deal. “This one may at some point tempt him as the ultimate challenge.”

2 thoughts on “Two states: alive or dead?

  1. Aaron Ainbinder

    The whole notion of a “Two State Solution” is completely impossible, since such a notion, if based in reality, would require two sides which both desire a peaceful coexistence with the other. That is not the case here. That has never been the case here. Odds are quite high that it will never be the case here. The so-called Palestinians have never once shown a desire to peacefully coexist with us/Israel. Never once.

    To continue expecting the impossible to come to be is as based in reality as the notion that if I hold a rock over your head, and let go of it, that it will not fall onto your head. It is not going to happen. The rock will hit your head, no matter how much you wish it would be different. The so-called Palestinians want us/Israel to cease to exist. They know it. We know it. The UN knows it. Both of our generally corrupt political parties know it. What is completely missing is a politician, a major politician in the spotlight, who has the courage and capacity to publicly state this simple fact.

    It would be a short, simple and very direct statement for, hopefully, President Trump (after he takes office) to express. Something like, “The Palestinians (I’ll leave out the term “so-called”) have never once shown that they want to peacefully coexist with Israel. There is no two-state solution possible when one side wants the other side’s existence to cease.” Then, President Trump should stop talking and let the silence of truth fill the room and the airwaves.

    In the meantime, Diana DeGette, along with 75 of her fellow congressional Democrats, voted “NAY” on condemning the UN’s resolution 2334. I would wager that the overwhelming majority of Jews, in and around Denver, voted for her once again this past November, as loyal Jewish members of the Democratic Party are expected to do.

    And the majority of my fellow Denver Jews, who are overwhelmingly Democrats, also no doubt voted for the other Democrat congressional members, all of whom voted for the Iran Nuclear Deal, which helped secure the release of $150 billion of Iran’s money so that Iran, Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah could be very, very well-funded as they continue their efforts in finishing the work of the Nazis.

    The Colorado Democrat members of congress did what their boss, the president, expected them to do. And Denver’s Democrat Jews did as well, consequences to America, and consequences to Israel, be darned.

    No doubt we will see DeGette, Perlmutter and Polis at this spring/summer’s “I Stand With Israel” gatherings, being joined at the gatherings, greeted and cheered on by the Denver Jews who love them, consequences and carnage in Israel, be darned.

    Well darn it, folks, don’t you think it is high time to consider the consequences of the Democratic Party’s actions, at least with regard to Israel? We Jews overwhelmingly vote for the political party which says one thing at “I Stand With Israel” gatherings, and then votes to help fund and support the Islamic terrorists who want us/Israel to cease to exist.

  2. Beer Baron

    The two-state solution is not dying, it’s death. The only problem this solution ever solved was the lack of graves in Israel. This paradigm has literally filled cemeteries.


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