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For those of us who care deeply about Israel and its future as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people, September was a month where we finally got some good news. After years of watching the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution dim without much meaningful reaction from the US government, we saw progressive Jewish Congressman Andy Levin introduce a new bill that gives our elected leaders an opportunity to forge a new path.
The Two-State Solution Act, which Rep. Levin introduced in the House alongside a number of influential cosponsors, is the most significant legislation in over a decade not only for promoting Palestinian rights but for Israel’s security and democratic future. Simply put, this is because the bill includes meaningful steps that reinvigorate diplomacy and push back on the harmful status quo of endless conflict, deepening occupation, and recurring cycles of violence.
There is a tendency in some parts of the Jewish community to reject even the possibility that Israeli policies and the settlement movement have played a role in exacerbating the conflict. While burying our heads in the sand to avoid confronting the daily realities in the region may be a more comfortable option, it does nothing to protect Israel from the dangers it faces as a result of deepening occupation and the absence of any diplomatic progress.
According to a number of former leaders of Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, those dangers are significant. Ami Ayalon, who served as director of the service in the 1990s, has written that “continuing the occupation is the single greatest threat to Israel’s safety, and to our existence as a democracy.” His fellow former Shin Bet director Carmi Gilon has shared similar sentiments, warning that “The occupation should have been ended. The occupation is the mother of all evils…there’s existing damage as a result of the occupation, and it will only go on and get worse.”
This past May, we saw in real-time why these warnings are so urgent. Protests of the threatened forced displacement of dozens of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem led to a crackdown by Israeli police, which sparked more protests and thus further crackdowns, ultimately leading to Hamas terrorists opportunistically firing rockets indiscriminately into Israeli territory, retaliatory airstrikes from the IDF into Gaza, and alarming inter-communal violence in Israeli cities.
At any given moment, any of the many policies used to entrench the occupation — the displacement and demolition of Palestinian communities; the arbitrary detentions and interrogations; the proliferation of settler violence — has the potential to spark conflagrations that imperil Israelis. Cumulatively, these actions continue to erode Israeli democracy, seriously damage its global support, and undermine Palestinian advocates for moderation, diplomacy and compromise.
While it can certainly be painful for Israelis and pro-Israel Americans to acknowledge and confront this reality, it is deeply necessary. Ignoring the deteriorating status quo won’t make it any better. And while Palestinian leaders undoubtedly must shoulder a significant portion of the blame for the ongoing deadlock, there is nothing pro-Israel about denying the fact that for too long, right-wing Israeli leaders have done nearly everything in their power to obstruct and undermine the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution, and to cement the status quo.
The Two-State Solution Act is so welcome because it confronts this reality and proposes policies to help address it. It seeks to turn US support for a two-state solution from empty rhetoric into meaningful, productive action. It rolls back damaging measures from the Trump era that embraced the settlement movement and creeping annexation. It promotes the resumption of serious diplomatic engagement between the US and the Palestinian Authority, rather than treating the entire Palestinian people as if they can simply be ignored or bought off.
The bill reaffirms support for the ongoing annual provision of over 3.8 billion in aid to Israel, while making clear that this aid cannot be used to advance policies that deepen the occupation — and which thereby undercut Israeli security and trample Palestinian rights. It seeks to put the US-Israel relationship on a more open, honest and realistic footing, focused on helping our ally move towards peace, rather than looking on silently as it drifts dangerously in the wrong direction.
The Two-State Solution Act, and the outspoken leadership of the over two dozen Members of Congress who have already co-sponsored this legislation, answers the call of concerned, patriotic Israelis like Ayalon, who has written that “We need the United States to ensure that the relationship between our two countries is guiding us down a path toward peace, stability and the maintenance of democracy — not empowering or abetting a slide toward disaster.”
For those members of our community who believe that Israel should never accept the creation of a Palestinian state, never give up a single settlement, and never end its control over millions of people who lack basic civil rights or Israeli citizenship, the Two-State Solution Act is surely something to be opposed. But for the large majority of American Jews who would genuinely like to see both Israelis and Palestinians living alongside each other in peace, security and self-determination, this is legislation to welcome and champion.
Kevin Rachlin is the Vice President of Public Affairs at J Street.