The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Keeping Democrats united on Israel

Getty Images

Since Democrats won the House last month, too much drama has been made over its implications for Israel. There is certainly more diversity in the Democratic Caucus now, reflecting the diversity of opinion throughout the U.S. — ranging between those who hold Israeli security as paramount, and those who emphasize Palestinian rights. But, these dynamics are not new, nor are they even in conflict.

Democrats should now unite behind what’s best for both peoples, policies that preserve and advance a negotiated two-state solution — the only outcome which can ensure security for a Jewish and democratic Israel, and justice and dignity for Palestinians in a sovereign state of their own.

{mosads}Today, the two-state solution is under threat, still the most popular endgame for Israelis and Palestinians, but no longer believed to be achievable, as hardliners on both sides seek to make it impossible. And the peace process hangs in limbo, awaiting President Trump’s anticipated peace plan and an end to the counterproductive feud with the Palestinians.

Democrats should acknowledge the deeply-held narratives of both sides, work to rebuild trust in America’s role as peacemaker and seek to bridge the gaps between the parties. Here’s how Democrats can unite behind a strategy that is both staunchly pro-Israel and advances the interests of Palestinians:

  1. Security: Security is the foundation of any agreement. Democrats should promote Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation and enhance the capacity of the Palestinian security force with the aim of transferring territorial autonomy to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, strengthening moderates over extremists, and ultimately establishing a demilitarized Palestinian state. Furthermore, confronting Iranian aggression and enabling Israel to maintain its qualitative military edge are both essential for advancing Israeli and Palestinian interests of regional cooperation through the Arab Peace Initiative.
  1. Borders: Democrats should work to preserve the Palestinian goal of a viable and contiguous state while recognizing Israeli demographic realities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These objectives are not mutually exclusive. Although over 600,000 Israelis live beyond the 1967 lines on land the Palestinians claim for their future state, limited land swaps could bring the vast majority of these Israelis into Israel’s new internationally-recognized borders. To safeguard the possibility of two states in the short-term and build trust and political support on both sides, Democrats should support proposals by Israeli security experts permitting Israel to continue building in the settlement blocs, while renouncing its claim to territory beyond the security barrier. By safeguarding territory for a Palestinian state, Democrats could create a win-win dynamic and potentially defuse the settlement issue for Israelis and Palestinians alike. 
  1. Jerusalem: President Trump has correctly recognized that Jerusalem is and will remain Israel’s capital. Democrats should acknowledge that Palestinians also have a legitimate claim to a capital in East Jerusalem, and explore formulas for establishing two capitals while respecting the fabric of life in the city and ensuring unimpeded access to holy sites.
  1. Refugees: Democrats should articulate that the Palestinian leadership must accept, and communicate to its people, that a mass “return” of millions of Palestinians to Israel is not going to happen, as it would threaten Israel’s survival as a Jewish state and prevent the realization of a two-state outcome. But a “just and agreed-upon solution” to the refugee situation could still respect Israel’s demographic concerns, by enabling a “return” to the new Palestinian state while fulfilling Palestinian aspirations with limited “family reunification” in Israel.
  1. Economic Aid: Finally, to prevent a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip, which could threaten Israelis as well as Palestinians, Democrats should work urgently to restore funding for USAID and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), as recommended by many within Israel’s security establishment. Additionally, support for investment in Palestinian entrepreneurship and joint ventures between American, Israeli, and Palestinian businesses could help lay the foundation for a viable and prosperous Palestinian economy — critical for a lasting peace.

Whereas the Trump administration is noncommittal on the attainment of a negotiated two-state solution, Democrats should be absolute in their support and weigh every action against whether it advances or detracts from that goal. For the few who have considered them, boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel are as misguided and counterproductive as the Trump administration’s efforts to strong-arm the Palestinians. The players in this conflict are too deeply-entrenched to be bullied or wished away, but actions rooted in fairness and mutual-respect can still ease them toward a two-state solution — and unite the Democratic party.

Robert Wexler is a former U.S. congressman from Florida and the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

Tags Donald Trump Israel Palestinians Two state solution UNRWA

More Foreign Policy News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video