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Rep. Levin on Bennett: 'Gentleman that represents 6 seats'

Progressive Dems introduce bill they say aims at keeping 2-state solution alive

Bill, which would widely bar use of US defense aid in territories, faces uphill battle; moderate Dems group calls it counterproductive, bad policy that asks nothing of Palestinians

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Rep. Andy Levin speaks at a press conference introducing his "Two-State Solution Act" on Capitol Hill, Sept. 23, 2021. He is flanked by, from left: Hadar Susskind, the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now; Rep. Alan Lowenthal; Rep. Sara Jacobs; Rep. Peter Welch; and J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. (Ron Kampeas/JTA)
Rep. Andy Levin speaks at a press conference introducing his "Two-State Solution Act" on Capitol Hill, Sept. 23, 2021. He is flanked by, from left: Hadar Susskind, the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now; Rep. Alan Lowenthal; Rep. Sara Jacobs; Rep. Peter Welch; and J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. (Ron Kampeas/JTA)

A group of progressive, pro-Israel Democrats introduced a comprehensive piece of legislation on Thursday aimed at keeping alive the dimming prospects for a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.

The Two-State Solution Act introduced by Rep. Andy Levin with over a dozen co-sponsors aims “to preserve conditions for, and improve the likelihood of, a two-state solution that secures Israel’s future as a democratic state and a national home for the Jewish people, a viable, democratic Palestinian state.”

However, it faces an uphill battle to become law. The bill is strongly opposed by more moderate Democrats, who say it demands nothing of the Palestinians.

If passed, the bill orders the US government to take a series of steps aimed at limiting Israeli entrenchment in the West Bank.

The bill bars US defense aid from use in acts by Israel to expand its control beyond the Green Line, through moves such as settlement building, demolitions of Palestinian homes, or evictions of Palestinian residents. It also mandates strict oversight of how Israel spends defense assistance more broadly.

The legislation says the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip are all occupied territories and should be referred to as such in all official US policies, documents and communications.

Israel captured those areas in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed East Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, handing over control to the Palestinian Authority, which was ousted in 2007 from the coastal enclave in a bloody coup by the Hamas terror group that still rules the Strip.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital. Former US president Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and shifted the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The centrist Democratic Majority for Israel group quickly announced its opposition to the new bill, which it called “counterproductive, one-sided, and bad policy.” It added: “The bill wrongly blames Israel alone for the failure to achieve a two-state solution. The reality is that Israel has offered Palestinians — and Palestinian leaders have refused — a state of their own on several occasions.”

Said group CEO Mark Mellman in a statement: “This one-sided Two-State Solution Act seems less about actually achieving a two-state solution and more about rewriting history — both ancient and modern — and stirring up anti-Israel hostility.”

Palestinian protesters attend a demonstration against the Evyatar settlement outpost, south of Nablus, on June 4, 2021, in the West Bank. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

The bill also seeks to reverse a 2020 Trump administration directive requiring goods made in Israeli settlements to be marked as “Made in Israel.” Under the bill, imports to the US produced outside of Israel proper should be marked as made in the West Bank or Gaza.

In addition, the legislation seeks to advance the Lowey Fund passed by Congress last year, setting aside $250 million in funding for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs and Palestinian business development. The Two-State Solution Act urges the State Department to authorize grants to support human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Gaza and the West Bank as provided by the Lowey Fund.

The legislation urges US President Joe Biden to follow through on campaign pledges to reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem, which served as the de facto mission to the Palestinians, along with the PLO Diplomatic Mission in Washington. Both were shuttered by the Trump administration.

The bill also calls for the scrapping of the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act, which deems the PLO and its affiliates a terror organization.

To get around the hurdle, the legislation says the US should encourage the PA to reform its so-called “pay-to-slay” practice of providing regular stipends to security prisoners and families of dead terrorists through its welfare program.

Levin unveiled the legislation at a Thursday’s press conference on the steps of Capitol Hill where he was joined by several of his bill’s cosponsors — Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Sara Jacobs and Alan Lowenthal of California, and Peter Welch of Vermont.

Introducing the Two-State Solution Act!

Posted by Congressman Andy Levin on Thursday, September 23, 2021

All five of them said they supported a separate bill approved by the House later in the day to expand funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The moderate Democrats who introduced the Iron Dome legislation are unlikely to return the favor though, and the Two-State Solution Act will most likely have a difficult time passing in Congress, due to its heavy criticism of Israeli actions in the West Bank.

Despite the moderate opposition,  the progressive, pro-Israel lawmakers at Thursday’s press conference were optimistic about their bill’s chances.

“We need a new center of gravity for actually doing something to bring long-term peace for Israel and human rights for Palestinians,” said Levin.

“We’re speaking for the American public. The American public wants a two-state solution,” added Lowenthal.

“I have a master’s degree in international conflict resolution. I’ve been working on these issues for a very long time,” said Jacobs, a first-term Congresswoman.  “It’s not a question of will we make peace right now… That doesn’t mean we should do nothing, or lose hope.”

Democratic Representative Andy Levin of Michigan (House Television via AP)

Levin said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the vast majority of the American Jewish community backs his approach, which is to advocate for aid for Israel, but with rigid oversight to make sure the money does not inhibit the two-state outcome.

Levin referred to a Jewish Electoral Institute poll in July, taken after the Gaza conflict, in which 58% of Jewish voters said it would be appropriate to restrict aid to Israel so it could not spend US money on settlements.

During the press conference, he downplayed “excuses” commonly used by opponents to dismiss working toward a two-state solution, citing Hamas rule in Gaza, the PA’s lack of legitimacy or Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s opposition to a Palestinian state. He dismissively referred to him as a “gentleman that represents six seats in the Knesset.”

“We can come up with a lot of excuses, but what’s missing is the US playing a muscular role by saying we support you and bring you together through thick and thin to reach a two-state solution,” he explained.

Levin rolled out his bill at the press conference with J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group that in recent years has endorsed some restrictions on US assistance to Israel. Also joining him and speaking was Americans for Peace Now CEO Hadar Susskind, whose group espouses similar views.

JTA and ToI staff contributed to this report.

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