WASHINGTON — US House lawmakers issued a strong rebuke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump on Friday, passing a resolution opposing Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank and supporting a two-state solution.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu spoke to Trump about potentially annexing the Jordan Valley. Since March, the prime minister has vowed to annex the West Bank region and has recently intensified those calls as he remains in a fierce battle to maintain his grip on power.
The nonbinding resolution, known as H.Res.326, calls on the Trump administration to “expressly endorse a two-state solution as its objective and discourage steps by either side that would put a peaceful end to the conflict further out of reach, including unilateral annexation of territory or efforts to achieve Palestinian statehood status outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.”
It passed Friday mostly on partisan lines — by a vote of 226-188-2 — with the overwhelming support of House Democrats and some Republicans.
Representative Eliot Engel, the Democrat who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recalled his longtime support of Israel and how he backed Trump’s shift of the US embassy to the holy city of Jerusalem. He also made clear that the resolution did not impose any conditions on the more than $3 billion in US military aid that goes to Israel each year.
But he said, in a choice turn of phrase, US security was being “trumped by decisions about our own political interests… Those of us that are strong supporters of Israel understand that Israel is best served by a two-state solution, that a two-state solution is good not only for Palestinians but also good for Jews,” Engel said on the House floor.
Democrats Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress who have gained notoriety for their strong criticisms of Israel, both opposed the resolution, as did the two other left-wing congresswomen dubbed “The Squad.” They objected that the resolution’s authors, in a bid to gain broad support, removed a call to end Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian land.
Five Republicans voted for the resolution.
“This resolution not only endorses an unrealistic, unattainable solution — one that Israel has made impossible — but also one that legitimizes inequality, ethnic discrimination and inhumane conditions,” said Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Squad member who is of Palestinian descent.
“We must take bolder actions to ensure that human rights are upheld in Israel and that Palestinians and Black Israelis are treated with the equality every human being deserves,” said Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, on the House floor.
I spoke today as the proud granddaughter of a strong, loving Palestinian woman in opposition to #HRes326. We must take bolder actions to ensure human rights are upheld in Israel and that Palestinians and Black Israelis are treated with the equality every human being deserves. pic.twitter.com/G3IlRcoVM6
— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@RepRashida) December 6, 2019
“This resolution not only endorses an unrealistic, unattainable solution — one that Israel has made impossible — but also one that legitimizes inequality, ethnic discrimination and inhumane conditions.”
Omar said she couldn’t support the resolution after amendments were made to withdraw the word “occupation” from the text and add in language committing to “ironclad” support for $38 billion in military aid to Israel, assistance that was agreed upon in a memorandum of understanding reached during the Obama administration.
“We are told to swallow these changes in the name of ‘pragmatism,'” she tweeted. “But there is nothing ‘pragmatic’ about a vote that makes peace unachievable.”
She added, in two separate tweets, “The goal of these changes was clear: to pass a resolution that will not actually bring a resolution to this conflict. That’s why the resolution doesn’t have support from Palestinians in Congress or Palestinian advocates.”
The measure, however, was lauded by the liberal Zionist group J Street, which called it a “landmark resolution.”
“With this vote, the majority of lawmakers have rejected the Trump administration’s embrace of the Israeli settlement movement’s agenda, which undermines US interests, imperils Israel’s future and tramples on Palestinian rights,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group’s president.
“They’ve made clear that strong support for Israel’s security must go hand-in-hand with opposition to annexation, holding the line against settlement expansion and active American leadership towards a two-state solution.”
J Street has been advocating for the resolution for months.
At the organization’s national conference in October, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly voiced her support for the measure. And last week, 106 Democratic members of Congress sent US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a letter after he announced the United States would no longer consider the settlements in violation of international law.
The policy shift, they wrote, would “severely damage prospects for peace” and “blatantly disregards” international law.
In her Twitter explanation for opposing the resolution, Omar said her decision was not a criticism of J Street or the resolution’s sponsors. Rather, she said, it’s “a criticism of the pro-occupation establishment who tried to undermine them at every turn.”
The resolution was sponsored by Democratic representatives Alan Lowenthal of California, Karen Bass of California and Gerry Connolly of Virginia.
Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democrats of America, criticized Republicans for not supporting a resolution that contained language long supported by both parties on Capitol Hill
“We are disappointed that Republicans chose to jettison what until now has been strong bipartisan support for a two-state solution,” she said, noting that the text included “an affirmation of support for security assistance to Israel, per the 10-year, $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel.”
She went on, “We strongly reject the Republican Party’s choice to insert partisanship into the US-Israel relationship.”
At the same time, New York Congressman Lee Zeldin, a Republican, accused the Democrats of politicizing Israel by passing the resolution.
House Democratic lawmakers “decided to play partisan politics w/ a powder keg, passing their ill-timed & deeply flawed resolution re Israel almost completely along party lines,” he tweeted.
In recent years the Trump administration has moved away from its support for a two-state solution.
Last month US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US is softening its position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Pompeo repudiated a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.”
US moves that have weakened Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood have included President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the moving of the US embassy to that city and the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington. These moves have been widely, though not universally, welcomed in Israel.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and his point man for the Middle East peace process, has said that the administration’s as-yet-unreleased peace plan would avoid speaking about the two-state solution.
“I realize that means different things to different people,” he said earlier this year. “If you say ‘two states’ to the Israelis it means one thing, and if you say ‘two states’ to the Palestinians it means another thing. So we said, ‘let’s just not say it’. Let’s just work on the details of what this means.”
Agencies contributed to this piece.