In 1990, as a 29-year-old graduate student at the University of Michigan, I helped organize an interfaith delegation to Israel and Palestine. When I returned from the trip — my first to the region — I wrote an op-ed for the Detroit Jewish News urging my fellow American Jews to speak out in support of a two-state solution and an end to the occupation. I asked, “Why don’t we join thousands of courageous Israelis in opposing their government’s policy when it runs counter to Israel’s own interests and denigrates the Jewish people’s centuries of struggle against injustice?”
It was, at the time, a radical position in our community, and one that didn’t earn me a lot of friends among some powerful American Jewish organizations. Today, though, supporting a two-state solution isn’t just noncontroversial — it sometimes seems banal and even meaningless.
In recent years, saying one supports a two-state solution has become like offering “thoughts and prayers” in the wake of a mass shooting. People say they support two states, but the words are not connected to any deeds; and actions that endanger the possibility of a viable Palestinian state are often met with silence.
We don’t have time to not act anymore, nor can we avert our gaze. America must reassert its long-dormant role in bringing these two parties together and helping create the conditions for real peace and security.
Earlier this year, we witnessed a conflict in Israel and Gaza that cost hundreds of lives and caused devastating damage to homes and livelihoods, worsening Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. We saw riots erupt in Israeli towns once applauded as models of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Palestinians. All of this occurred against the backdrop of a deepening occupation in the Palestinian territories that, if continued unabated, will foreclose the possibility of a viable Palestinian state altogether.
As we enter a new year in the Jewish calendar, I believe we must also enter a new chapter. It is serendipitous that we find ourselves at the outset of a Shmita year. According to the Shmita Project, “During this seventh year, God commands us to let the land rest, release debts, resolve disputes, and to open our hands and hearts to those in need.” As a Jew and a member of Congress, I feel compelled to do what I can to resolve a dispute that has cost thousands of lives and torn at the Jewish community for decades and work more urgently to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic state and homeland for the Jewish people is secure and Palestinians’ aspirations for a state of their own can be fulfilled.
That is why I have introduced the Two-State Solution Act, a bill to accelerate progress towards a two-state solution and discourage steps that push one out of reach. It clarifies the distinction between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and reverses policies put in place by the Trump administration that removed such distinctions. It also funds programming to promote human rights, democracy, and rule of law and to strengthen Palestinian civil society organizations. On top of that, the bill underscores the importance of diplomacy, encouraging the reopening of the PLO foreign mission in Washington and enhancing people-to-people programming for Israelis and Palestinians.
The bill also reaffirms the importance of U.S. security assistance to Israel, while making clear that there should be robust oversight over that assistance, as there should be over aid to any country, and that the laws authorizing that assistance do not permit its use for activities that perpetuate the occupation or enable the annexation — be it de jure or de facto — of the West Bank.
This provision may elicit condemnations like the ones I heard 30 years ago when I spoke out on behalf of two states.
Critics will say the bill singles out Israel by imposing restrictions, even though Congress specifies what taxpayer dollars may or may not be used for all the time. I’ve authored such provisions myself, like one stating that no U.S. funding may be used for assistance to the Armed Forces of Haiti.
They’ll accuse us of taking a radical position, even though most American Jewish voters support restricting assistance to Israel to prevent the growth or persistence of the occupation, as do other Americans.
They’ll say the bill would make Israel less safe, even though it does not lessen the support the United States gives to Israel for its security by even one dollar, and even though there is no reason to believe prolonging the status quo — and continuing to curtail the rights of the Palestinian people — will bring about peace and security for Israelis. Peace with Egypt and returning the Sinai improved Israel’s security. Peace with Jordan improved Israel’s security. The situation has gone on for 54 years, and it has led to recurring bloodshed, increased isolation, and has not delivered Israelis’ safety or peace.
The status quo is failing Israelis and Palestinians alike. If we are to embrace the concept of Shmita and use this moment to resolve disputes, then we cannot eschew our responsibility to act to bring about peaceful coexistence between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Levin represents the 9th District of Michigan and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.