For decades now, the Beltway consensus on Israel/Palestine has been a two-state solution. This preferred outcome is generally cited alongside a number of additional goals: self-determination for Palestinians and security for Israelis. Whether or not this ambition lines up with the current reality of the conflict is obviously a disputed topic, but one thing is clear: challenge this consensus from a Palestinian perspective and you’re liable to be condemned. Challenge it from an Israeli perspective . . . and you receive a collective yawn from Washington.
This summer the House overwhelmingly passed H.Res.246, a resolution that condemned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In addition, to effectively tagging BDS as an anti-Semitic movement, the text of the bill also focuses on the fact that BDS constitutes a sizable roadblock for those advocate for a two-state solution. This is dominant position within the Democratic Party. Even Senator Bernie Sanders (easily the most left-wing candidate currently running for president and an opponent of legislation that penalizes BDS supporters) criticizes the movement for this reason.
The small number of congress members who voted against H.Res.246 were criticized by pro-Israel individuals and organizations, but none of them faced a backlash comparable to Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Not only were they condemned as anti-Semites, they were also denied entry into Israel by the Netanyahu government over their support for BDS, a move that many believe was orchestrated by President Trump.
While Tlaib and Omar were making headlines for being barred from Israel, a group of GOP lawmakers were quietly going on a tour of West Bank settlements sponsored by a right-wing, Evangelical organization. The US Israel Education Association (USIEA) was founded by Heather Johnston, who also directs the association. “Heather has personally led the way in building the strategic relationships and providing the relevant perspective that makes USIEA a valued resource to U.S. and Israeli leaders,” the organization’s website explains.
USIEA sponsors congressional trips to Israeli settlements in the West Bank so that lawmakers can “understand the priorities of the Israeli government.” This summer four Republicans went on such a trip: Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri, Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, and Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee. Johnston told the Jewish News Syndicate that the Representatives experienced a “paradigm shift” as a result of their trip and learned that “90 percent” of Palestinians actually want to work with Israelis.
Upon returning to the United States, Wagner told the Jerusalem Post that “Judea and Samaria” (the biblical name for the West Bank, and how it is commonly referred to by the Israeli government) were actually part of Israel. “I know that there is a majority of Palestinians that live there,” she admitted, I believe that it is [part of Israel], just as I believe that the Golan Heights is.”
When asked if she supported a two-state solution Wagner said, “You are seeing some evolution in this regard. Time will tell if it’s feasible or not.” Byrne implied that the trip actually shifted his position: “I started out as being a two-state supporter and I am evolving,” he said, “I am beginning to have doubts that it can work.” A similar evolution was cited by Rodgers and Roe.
My wife Clarinda & I had the pleasure of planting a grape vine in Israel this week, which symbolizes something blessed and prosperous. It reminded me of how we should continue to nourish America’s relationship with Israel so both nations will continue to be blessed & prosperous. pic.twitter.com/VGeS0YsGc5
— Dr. Phil Roe (@DrPhilRoe) August 22, 2019
Last month, Byrne took the House floor to explain the group’s conclusions to congress. “Perhaps our struggles over the last 20 years to create a two-state solution there has blinded us from the fact that this is really about people,” he declared, “It is not about lines drawn on a piece of paper that we can’t seem to get a resolution to. Those people, if they are allowed to live and work together as they want to, maybe they will find peace on their own without some push from the rest of us, which seems to be getting us nowhere.”
Rep. Wagner said that the delegation met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to talk about the West Bank, a region he promised to partially annex if reelected. “We had a long discussion about the West Bank and about the time that we spent there inside the West Bank, watching Israelis and Palestinians working together in this integrated fashion,” Wagner explained, “I asked the Prime Minister: ‘Wow, so many of the myths have been debunked. I want to go back with this information, talk to my colleagues, and talk to my constituents. What should we say?’ The Prime Minister said: ‘Tell their truth.'”
Here is how Rep. Byrne described the truth he learned:
We were in a town in the northern part of Israel–in what Israel calls Samaria–called Ariel. In Ariel, there are two parts, two industrial parts, that have 209 different manufacturing companies in them. Most of the people working in those manufacturing factories are Palestinians, and they make on average four times as much as they could make if they were working somewhere else in what we, unfortunately, call the West Bank, but is really not the West Bank.
It is good for those Palestinians to make that much money. It is good for them to be able to take advantage of the miracle of the Israeli economy.
Speaking from the House floor Rep. Rodgers referred to Ariel as “the capital of Samaria” and described the delegation’s meeting with the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce” where she saw Israelis and Palestinians cooperating on business matters and that she’d share this information with the Trump administration in hopes that it would influence policies in the region.
“What we saw, what we witnessed, that is the foundation for peace and must be a part of any of the peace plan moving forward…Israel is our greatest ally, our greatest friend in the Middle East,” said Rodgers, “…So I am going to be encouraging, and I know my fellow colleagues who traveled with me, we are going to be talking to the administration and Jared Kushner about the peace plan that is being developed right now and urging them to include, in any kind of a peace plan, this economic cooperation and America standing in support of this bottom-up grassroots approach that really makes a difference in people’s lives.”
In August, 21 Israeli lawmakers sent a letter to congress (addressed to Wagner, as well as Reps. Brad Schneider, Lee Zeldin, Jerry Nadler) condemning two-state solution rhetoric and insisting that it was actually more dangerous to Israel than BDS. While the letter praised the Trump administration’s approach in the region, it criticizes AIPAC for being too liberal for paying lip service to the very concept of a two-state solution. A Palestinian state would “undoubtedly be a dysfunctional terrorist state” that would “severely damage the national security of both Israel and the United States,” states the letter.
Developments like these are noticed by those who pay close attention to such legislative matters, but they certainly don’t permeate the mainstream discourse on the subject. However, the supposed danger of pro-Palestine sentiment remains a popular topic and talking point.