Mondoweiss / January 11, 2022
In 2019 when Rep. Brian Mast declared, “I stand against a two-state solution,” he was voicing what has now become the GOP consensus.
Last fall Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) introduced The Two-State Solution Act, a piece of legislation that reiterates support for “a democratic state and a national home for the Jewish people” and the “aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.” In addition to championing this diplomatic framework, the bill also asserts that the West Bank is occupied territory and calls for an end to Israeli settlement expansion.
The liberal Zionist organization J Street has praised Levin’s effort. “American policies and actions should promote and not inhibit the chances of resolving the conflict,” said the group’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami in a press release. “True support for a two-state solution must go beyond lip service and propose, as this legislation does, tangible actions that would bring real change. This is the kind of bold, balanced US leadership that’s needed if we ever hope to end the unjust and unsustainable status quo in this conflict, which regularly harms both Israelis and Palestinians.”
So far Levin’s bill has 43 cosponsors, but not one of them is a Republican. This isn’t the first time that two-state legislation has been ignored by the GOP. In 2019 Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) introduced a nonbinding resolution in support of a two-state solution. Its text was much more generic than Levin’s bill and it contained no demands on Israel. The innocuous resolution managed to attract over 150 Democratic cosponsors, but no Republicans.
Mast certainly doesn’t represent some sort of hardline minority, he symbolizes the emerging GOP consensus on the issue. Just look at the race for the GOP Senate nomination in Ohio. Earlier this month the website Jewish Insider sent all six candidates a questionnaire about Israel and only one, former GOP state party chair Jane Timken, expressed support for a two-state solution. Even Timken’s approval came with a major caveat, as she believes Israel has the “right to annex portions of the West Bank.”
It wasn’t long ago that many Republicans championed the two-state solution with the same enthusiasm as Democrats. George W. Bush was the first president to call for a Palestinian state and left office declaring that a two-state solution would be realized thanks to the progress that his administration made.
It would be a vast understatement to say Bush’s assertion has not aged well. In recent years we have even seen liberal Zionists like Peter Beinart shed their belief in a Jewish state. However, the call for one democratic state has certainly not been embraced by Democratic politicians. On the right we’ve seen lawmakers openly reject the two-state solution, but their vision certainly doesn’t resemble Beinart’s. They simply believe that Israel should be able to annex and control any part of the region that it desires.
This sentiment was neatly summarized in Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance’s response to the Jewish Insider questionnaire, in which he put the word “Palestinians” in quotation marks. “We can’t give the ‘Palestinians’ a nation if they’re just going to use it to collect foreign aid, which they then spend on training young people to blow themselves up in Israeli (or American) restaurants,” said Vance. “On this question, I’d defer to Israel and other regional allies. If there’s use in creating another state for the Arabs in the region, and our allies want that to happen, I’m not going to stand in the way. But I don’t like our country using its leverage to bully Israel to do something against its sovereignty.”
This shift certainly didn’t happen overnight. In 2012 a video of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney candidly speaking at a private fundraiser made headlines. The video is best remembered because Romney implied that half of the electorate were freeloaders, but he also told donors that he’d abandoned any hope for a two-state solution.
“These are problems—these are very hard to solve, all right?,” said Romney. “And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, ‘There’s just no way.’ And so what you do is you say, ‘You move things along the best way you can.”’ You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.”
Shortly before the GOP convention in 2016 the Republican Platform Committee quietly approved a provision that omitted any mention of a two-state solution. That provision was drafted with assistance from two of Donald Trump’s aides, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman. The Iron Dome Alliance’s Jeff Ballabon, who also helped draft the provision, told Foreign Policy that Trump was “somewhat of a cipher” on foreign policy at the time, but that his two Israel advisors were instrumental in moving the party’s platform away from where it was originally.
During a 2019 interview Greenblatt was asked whether he supports a two-state solution. “We don’t use that phrase,” he explained. “Using that phrase leads to nothing. You can’t summarize a complex conflict like this with so many layers with a three-word slogan. I know that upsets people, but saying those words does not mean anything.”
Greenblatt is certainly right about one thing: the term two-state solution has ceased to mean much of anything. Democrats have been pontificating about the idea for decades with virtually nothing to show for it. All the while, the political climate has moved even further to the right. After four years of Trump and twelve of Netanyahu, Republicans are free to say how they really feel.
Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss