In a September 10 speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would annex part of the West Bank if he were reelected. “Give me the mandate. No previous Israeli prime minister has proposed doing so. Give me the strength to decide Israel’s eastern border,” he told voters.
Netanyahu’s announcement potentially creates a political dilemma for the Democrats. Most of the party continually stresses the need for a two-state solution, but rejects the idea of pushing equality via the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This summer, nearly every Democrat voted in favor of a resolution that championed a two-state solution and condemned BDS. However, Netanyahu’s move proves that reciting rhetoric about two states eventually living in harmony is wildly insufficient against the backdrop of the current reality and that other forms of agitation are desperately needed.
In July, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was one of the only lawmakers to vote against the aforementioned anti-BDS resolution. Seemingly in response to that bill she introduced her own resolution, one that affirms Americans’ right to boycott foreign countries in the name of furthering human rights. On Tuesday, Omar condemned Netanyahu’s announcement on Twitter. “This is the nail in the coffin to a two-state solution or any peace deal,” she wrote, “Anyone who does not condemn this or take action to prevent it cannot credibly say they support a two-state solution. Speak up!!!”
This is the nail in the coffin to a two-state solution or any peace deal.
Anyone who does not condemn this or take action to prevent it cannot credibly say they support a two-state solution.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) September 11, 2019
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) used the moment to call for a floor vote on House Resolution 326, his bill affirming that the United States supports a two-state solution.
My response to Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech today: pic.twitter.com/6aYFMau1hW
— Rep. Alan Lowenthal (@RepLowenthal) September 10, 2019
In June, Democrats stripped any mention of the occupation or settlement activity from Lowenthal’s legislation in attempt to generate GOP support for the bill. Despite these changes, no Republican has backed it yet.
Rep. Ro Khanna also called on Congress to stand up for a two-state solution. “If Netanyahu pursues this, he will shatter what is left of a two state solution,” he wrote, “For those of us who believe in democracy, international law, and human rights, it’s on us to stand up and make it clear the United States Congress opposes this annexation.”
If Netanyahu pursues this, he will shatter what is left of a two state solution. For those of us who believe in democracy, international law, and human rights, it’s on us to stand up and make it clear the United States Congress opposes this annexation. https://t.co/GlHBqVg33e
— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) September 10, 2019
So far, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate to comment on the issue. “Netanyahu’s proposal to annex occupied territory would violate international law and make a two state solution nearly impossible,” tweeted Sanders, “All who support Israeli-Palestinian peace must oppose it.”
Netanyahu's proposal to annex occupied territory would violate international law and make a two state solution nearly impossible. All who support Israeli-Palestinian peace must oppose it. https://t.co/7TNM5U4bYc
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) September 10, 2019
While dedication to the idea of a two-state solution is a staple of almost all Democratic rhetoric on the subject, Justice Democrats’ Waleed Shahid tweeted about how merely adopting such a position is insufficient at the moment. “This is why just saying ‘I believe in a two-state solution’ is a pretty out-of-touch response to what Netanyahu is doing,” he wrote in response to Netanyahu’s comments.
This is why just saying “I believe in a two-state solution” is a pretty out-of-touch response to what Netanyahu is doing. https://t.co/YEnPxXO1nI
— Waleed Shahid (@_waleedshahid) September 10, 2019
This certainly isn’t the first time that Netanyahu has referred to annexation and his previous comments on the subject have actually generated a something of a political backlash. In June, South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg declared that he would block U.S. taxpayer money from being used for a West Bank annexation if elected. That same month, five Democratic Senators (including presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders) introduced a resolution targeting the possibility of annexation.
Israel Policy Forum’s Policy Director Michael Koplow sensed a developing political issue for Israel as soon as Buttigieg made his speech. At the time he wrote:
[W]hatever Buttigieg meant, the takeaway is that a leading Democratic presidential contender – one who is viewed as a moderate, as pro-Israel, and someone who has gone out of his way in the past to defend Israel and Israelis – sees a clear political benefit in challenging Israel over annexation. It is naïve to think that this will be confined to Buttigieg, either among presidential hopefuls or among Democrats writ large. Rather than U.S. assistance to Israel being the rhetorical equivalent of a motion that passes with unanimous consent, it is now going to be an open question that is asked of politicians, brought up at presidential debates, and everyone will be forced to defend a position on it one way or the other.
Koplow also worried that annexation would boost support for the BDS movement:
Making annexation a central plank of Israel’s politics and diplomacy is going to create protests against Israel on college campuses and in progressive enclaves around the country, and the BDS movement will be the greatest political beneficiary as it convinces more and more people that the problem to be solved is not the occupation but Israel itself.
A tweet yesterday following Netanyahu’s announcement from Rep. Jackie Speier echoes this sentiment. “Annexation is not an option,” she wrote, “Proceeding would be a boon for BDS, cripple 2 states & hamper those of us who believe in a Jewish, democratic Israel. Israel needs secure borders but they must come from negotiations. Bibi & [Trump] stop risking Israel’s security for political gain!”
Annexation is not an option. Proceeding would be a boon for BDS, cripple 2 states & hamper those of us who believe in a Jewish, democratic Israel. Israel needs secure borders but they must come from negotiations. Bibi & @POTUS, stop risking Israel’s security for political gain!
— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) September 10, 2019
While Rep. Speier worries about the potential rise of BDS, Rep. Ilhan Omar’s resolution affirming Americans’ right to boycott has gained a few new co-sponsors since Congress returned from its summer recess: Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA).