The United States Capitol, Washington, DC, April 2018. (Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

US House Backs 2 States, Defying Trump, Netanyahu

In highly partisan vote, Democrats support Israeli-Palestinian peace based on two-state solution, while implicitly criticizing US and Israeli leaders

The United States House of Representatives voted Friday afternoon in favor of a nonbinding resolution expressing the sense of the house that only a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can ensure that Israel remains Jewish and democratic and can fulfill Palestinian aspirations for a state, and that unilateral moves by Israel to annex West Bank territory or by the Palestinians to declare a state outside the framework of negotiations with Israel should be discouraged.

The vote on House Resolution 326 was largely along partisan lines, with 221 Democrats and five Republicans voting in favor of the measure; and 183 Republicans, four Democrats and one Independent voting against it.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told The Media Line that the resolution supported the internationally recognized right of the Palestinians to self-determination, against all attempts to negate it.

“Resolution 326, approved by the House of Representatives, forms the latest blow to the attempts by the Trump administration to legitimize illegal Israeli colonial settlements and the annexation of occupied territory,” Erekat said.

Moreover, he reiterated his call for the international community to assume responsibility to stop Israel’s “flagrant violations of international law and UN resolutions,” including the “systematic destruction of the prospects for a negotiated solution with two states on the 1967 border in accordance with our historic compromise, several UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Bashar Azzeh, a member of the National Council of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and a leading Palestinian analyst, stressed to The Media Line that, for the first time, a majority of the US House of Representatives voted for a resolution that seemed to favor the Palestinians.

“The vote shows that the Americans believe in the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, and indicates a shift in American society in favor of the Palestinians,” Azzeh said.

He explained that, over the past few years, more than 120 Congress members, as well as congressional staff, American students, and representatives of civil society organizations visited the West Bank, “which is the result of collective efforts by us [Palestinians] and American friends who believe in peace, dignity and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”

Azzeh pointed out that the Democratic congresswomen who voted against the resolution, including the congresswoman of Palestinian descent, Rashida Tlaib, did so not because they opposed its criticism of Israel but because they thought it didn’t go far enough.

“Palestinians and Americans do realize the importance of having relations between each other, aside from their [the Americans’] role as mediators of peace with the Israelis,” Azzeh said. “We have been working constantly with our partners to create this relationship and develop it between both peoples.”

Azzeh said that the vote for this resolution paved the way, but the next step now should be recognition of Palestine as a state, since “congressional recognition of Palestine would support the two-state solution that the majority of Congress has voted for.”

Ali Jarbawi, a political science professor at Birzeit University and former Higher Education Minister, told The Media Line that the results show the vote was along partisan lines: The Democratic Party voted overwhelmingly in favor of the resolution, and the Republican Party voted overwhelmingly against it. Only four Democrats and five Republicans broke ranks with their parties and voted differently. “This indicates a division in the House of Representatives on a party basis,” he said.

Jarbawi made it clear that Trump’s policy is in opposition to traditional American positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until Trump came into office, all American presidents clearly supported the two-state solution. “The majority of congresspeople believe that Trump’s policy is useless and will not lead to resolution of the conflict.”

He added that this nonbinding resolution won’t change American foreign policy, which is made by the president, “unless a Democratic president wins the next American election.”

When reached by The Media Line, Abd al-Lateef Qanou, a Gaza-based Hamas spokesperson, said that his organization welcomed any regional or international effort toward justice for the Palestinian people within international norms and laws, “however, we remain under Israeli occupation and we have the full right, as per international resolutions, to establish our country.”

Arsen Ostrovsky, an Israel-based human rights attorney and Middle East foreign policy analyst, told The Media Line that the vote was “clearly a Democratic push-back to recent actions by the Trump administration,” particularly in voicing support for policies of the Netanyahu government in the West Bank.

Ostrovsky added that the opposition by Democratic Reps. Tlaib and Ilhan Omar was “highly revealing. Even the mere cursory reference to Israel’s security was too much for them.” He said their rejection of the resolution showed that they were not really interested in peace or the rights of the Palestinians. “Seemingly, no less than a one-state solution and the full destruction of the Jewish state will suffice for them.”

Ostrovsky noted, however, that “Tlaib and Omar’s anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views were overwhelmingly rejected by the majority of the Democratic Party.” And, he said, there remains “near-universal bipartisan consensus” on recognition of Israel’s security challenges and support for the US-Israel alliance.

Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli ambassador and congressional affairs liaison in the Israeli Embassy in Washington, told The Media Line that “it is impossible to get a better outcome while AIPAC supports the two-state solution or has no position on the issue.”

Ettinger suggested that “Israel should educate US legislators, policymakers and public opinion molders on the adverse impact of the proposed Palestinian state on US interests, including the survival of pro-US Arab regimes.”

Professor Menachem Klein, a senior lecturer in the Political Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University and a former adviser to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, suggested that the vote be seen in the context of American politics. “There is no Israeli-Palestinian peace process, therefore it is meaningless in this context.”

“The resolution’s text is very mild,” Klein said. “It does mention Israel’s security and the Jewish state but nothing on occupation or the Palestinians’ rights.” Klein thought that more explicit support for Palestinian rights or criticism of the occupation “would have prevented the majority vote.”

Klein also thought the resolution served another purpose, in the context of the Democratic presidential primaries: to help mainstream Democrats isolate members from the more progressive wing of the party, who support the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Professor Jonathan Rynhold, also from the Political Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University, told The Media Line, “The resolution codifies the longstanding, dominant, pre-existing approach among Democrats: strong support for the US commitment to Israeli security and strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on two states for two peoples.”

Rynhold said that opposition by the “Squad” of four far-left Democrats “indicates how conventional the resolution is in terms of the policy positions expressed, since their opposition is due to the unequivocal commitment to Israeli security and/or Jewish statehood.”

Rynhold agreed that the resolution was a direct response to the Trump administration’s newly announced position backing Netanyahu and the Israeli Right on the settlements. “Without this,” he said, “Democrats would not have felt the need to press the issue publicly at present.” He saw it as a symptom of Israel’s entanglement in the “unprecedented degree of negative affective partisanship since 2015.”

Professor Eytan Gilboa, director of the Center for International Communication and a senior research associate at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Media Line that passage of the resolution held an important lesson for Israel:

“Israel needs bipartisan support because the Republicans are not going to control the White House forever,” Gilboa said. “No matter who is going to lead the next [Israeli] government, Israel is going to have to … take into consideration the positions of the Democrats, which also means the positions of American Jews (because most of them support the Democrats). … Israel should worry about the schism between itself and the Democratic Party.”

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