In a September 10th speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would annex a third of the West Bank if reelected. Netanyahu’s declaration comes just a month after dozens of congress members (Republicans and Democrats) traveled to Israel as part of a trip sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), a branch of AIPAC. Recent comments by Republican members of the delegation suggest that the trip is being sold as an indictment of the two-state solution and an attack on the BDS movement. These statements indicate that GOP support for Israel is moving beyond cynical two-state solution rhetoric and toward a more public embrace of Netanyahu’s annexation vision.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) led AIPAC’S Republican delegation to Israel. After the trip, he told the Jewish News Syndicate that pushing a two-state solution on the region wasn’t the United States’ job. “The world is constantly changing,” he said, “Look at Lebanon. Look at Syria. Things are always in flux in these areas, so how can we choose a solution now without knowing what’s going to happen in a few years?”
Other Republican attendees expressed similar sentiments. Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-VA) said that, “The United States must step back and simply support Israel’s right to exist and to secure itself.” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) curiously compared the conflict to Chicago: “I would never suggest dividing Chicago to end the troubles stemming from cultural differences and economic disparities in different parts of the city. No matter where you draw the map, someone will be ticked off.”
Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) posted a write-up of his trip on his website. He said that Netanyahu expressed appreciation for Congress’ support for Israel, but was concerned with some of the “anti-Semitic rhetoric” coming from the chamber. Roe then devoted an entire paragraph to the importance of opposing BDS. He mentioned his co-sponsorship of H.Res. 246 (a resolution condemning the movement that overwhelmingly passed in July) and called for lawmakers to support the Combating BDS Act, a piece of legislation that would make it easier for states to crack down on BDS locally. “Divestment is a form of economic warfare and attempting to prevent international businesses from interacting with Israel is a direct threat to its security,” he wrote. Roe also claimed that Jerusalem was under “Palestinian rule” until 1947 and that people weren’t allowed to visit the Temple Mount as a result. “Today it’s open to people of all religions to visit and worship,” wrote Roe, “This is the way it should be.”
In an interview with Jewish Light, Rep Ann Wagner (R-MO) indicated that her position on the two-state solution was “evolving”, but she seemingly chose her words carefully:
I think that the [two-state solution] position is one that you will see evolve over time. I’m always careful to be certain that we are stating what U.S. policy and positions are. I’m a former U.S. ambassador, and I worked for the State Department, so I never want to get ahead of my skis in that regard. So I would say evolving is a good statement to make and accurate, just as I would say the area is evolving. Things have changed a great deal in Israel in five years — especially in the West Bank, so we are hopeful to the extent that it brings peace and harmony and safety and security and economic prosperity to all people living in Israel, that’s what our goal should be.
However, when she asked what the alternative to a two-state solution would be, Wagner made it clear that Israel would take complete control of the region. “Well, recognizing some of these areas that have been talked about in terms of settlements or occupied areas as actually part of the sovereign country of Israel,” she responded.
Wagner was also asked about annexation directly, but dodged the question entirely:
What we want is peace and harmony, safety and security and economic development in the entire region and a de-escalation. That’s what I hope. It’s certainly not my place to dictate the outcome of that. That’s up to Israelis and Palestinians. That’s up to their leadership and policy makers, but I was encouraged with what I saw. I thought there was great hope there.
Although the aforementioned H.Res. 246 passage was celebrated by Netanyahu as a victory for Israel, 21 Israeli lawmakers sent a letter to House leaders criticizing the bill. Their issue wasn’t with the condemnation of BDS, but with portions of the bill that referenced a two-state solution. The letter declares that a two-state solution is actually “far more dangerous to Israel” than BDS and attacks pro-Israel groups like AIPAC because they’ve recently advocated for it. “Pressure to establish a Palestinian state contradicts President Trump’s position, which he has stated many times — that the solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict shall be determined by the parties,” reads the letter.