columnIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

An irrelevant debate about a two-state solution

While a U.S. House critique of Trump’s Middle East policy doesn’t advance peace, it does point to where discussion about Israel may be heading inside the Democratic Party.

U.S. House of Representatives building in Washington, D.C. Credit:
U.S. House of Representatives building in Washington, D.C. Credit:
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Like just about everything that happens in Washington these days, it was a largely partisan affair. In an earlier era, the resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday endorsing a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians might have been seen as an anodyne endorsement of longstanding goals of American diplomacy in the Middle East. But in 2019, it was yet another instance in which Democrats and Republicans are conducting a scorched-earth war of attrition against each other, largely determined along lines set in place by their views about President Donald Trump.

While many Democrats genuinely have faith in the wisdom of a formula for peace that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside that of Israel, the motivation for their efforts to promote this view was a desire to rebuke Trump. Unlike its predecessors, the Trump administration is not obsessed with an attempt to negotiate—by means of either financial inducements or heavy-handed diplomatic pressure—a two-station solution. Rather than stick to the conventional wisdom and ideology that motivated the approaches of Presidents Obama, Clinton and both Bushes, Trump’s foreign-policy team has preferred to live in the real world.

They have taken into account a plain fact that none of the previous four presidents were interested in acknowledging—namely, that the Palestinians don’t want an independent state on these terms because it would force them to accept defeat in their century-long war against Zionism and the Jews.

While not explicitly opposing two states, Trump has said that it’s up to the parties to negotiate peace and not for outside forces to impose a solution on them. Equally important, he has made it clear to the Palestinians that America would no longer go along with some of the continued dangerous narratives about the conflict, such as the international community’s refusal to recognize Israeli sovereignty over its capital, Jerusalem, or the world’s turning a blind eye to the Palestinian Authority’s continued financial support for terrorism.

In a more rational world, a two-state solution would make sense. But the repeated and ever-more resolute refusals of the Palestinians to accept offers of peace that would have given them an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem—provided they were willing to peacefully with Israel—has not escaped the notice of most Israelis. That’s why there is a political consensus that stretches from the moderate left to the right that holds that they have no peace partner. And that’s why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief opponents in the Blue and White Party have largely mimicked his stand on the peace process.

While critics of Israel say that the only alternative to two states is an apartheid state, Israelis know that is a false choice. They understand that even an unpleasant and anomalous status quo is preferable to repeating Ariel Sharon’s 2005 Gaza experiment, when a complete withdrawal from territory led to the development of a terror state.

Neighboring Arab states have also lost patience with Palestinian rejectionism. They are more interested in Israel as an ally against radical Islamists and an Iranian regime that seeks regional hegemony than in supporting the hopeless quest to destroy it, which motivates both those in Hamas who rule Gaza and the supposed moderates associated with Fatah in the West Bank.

Seen in that light, the Democratic effort to prop up support for two states is irrelevant to what is actually going on in the real Middle East, as opposed to the fictional world of left-wing ideologues like those of J Street, who reportedly helped push the Democrats to pass this resolution.

As Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) pointed out, the measure might have seemed less unrealistic had it noted that only a week earlier, rockets were being fired at Israel from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and condemned ongoing Palestinian terrorism, as well as the P.A.’s subsidies for terrorists and their families.

But what’s really interesting about this vote was the behind-the-scenes maneuvering among Democrats as it made its way towards passage.

Pro-Israel Democrats forced the House leadership to amend the original text to state that Congress was also prepared to reiterate its support for the 10-year commitment to military aid to Israel made by the Obama administration in 2016. That’s controversial among the Democratic presidential candidates since top-tier contenders like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg have signaled their willingness to withhold such aid in order to push Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians so as to prop up the two-state fantasy.

Just as important were the votes of the four Democrats known as “the Squad.” The only four Democratic votes against two states were from that quartet consisting of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). Their motive was the opposite of the Republicans since they oppose a two-state solution because it involves support for Israel’s existence within any borders. That means that there’s no longer any doubt about whether the popular AOC and Pressley support their two fellow radicals’ intersectional ideology and desire to eliminate the one Jewish state on the planet.

It’s encouraging that plenty of Democrats in the House oppose efforts to withhold aid from Israel. However, some who ultimately supported the resolution, like the co-chairs of the House Progressive Caucus—Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)—made it clear that they back such pressure on the one democracy in the Middle East.

It remains to be seen if the results of the upcoming Democratic presidential primaries back the position of supporters of Israel or instead reflect the party’s increasing tilt to the left. It will be up to pro-Israel Democrats to ensure that, although their party is still hooked on an irrelevant two-state proposal, it doesn’t fall into the hands of extremists who want to make sure there isn’t even one Jewish one.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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