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Israel-Palestine: US progressives slam bill promoting two-state solution

Legislation recognises illegality of settlements, but ignores Israel's systemic human rights abuses, pro-Palestinian and progressive Jewish groups say
Congressman Andy Levin's bill would require that products made in the Palestinian territories be labelled as either "made in West Bank" or "made in Gaza".
Congressman Andy Levin's bill would require that products made in the Palestinian territories be labelled as either 'made in West Bank' or 'made in Gaza' (AFP/File photo)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

US Congressman Andy Levin introduced legislation on Thursday that would cement the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as official American policy.

Pro-Palestinian and progressive advocates say, however, that the legislation falls short of offering any measures to ensure Palestinian rights and fails to hold Israel accountable for its human rights abuses, which have been referred to by rights groups as "crimes of apartheid".

If the bill were to become law, it would require US policy to state that only a two-state solution can solve the conflict.

It would also force the administration of US President Joe Biden, and subsequent administrations, to label the West Bank - including East Jerusalem - and Gaza as occupied territories, and to state that any Israeli settlements in that territory is illegal.

'The Two-State Solution Act is rooted in a flawed 'both sides' framing of what is happening in Palestine and Israel'

- Beth Miller, JVP Action

"The need to achieve a two-state solution is more urgent than ever," Levin told Politico.

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"As we enter this new year in the Jewish calendar, we must also enter a new chapter - one in which 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."

The bill would also require that products made in the Palestinian territories be labelled as either "made in West Bank" or "made in Gaza", reversing an order by the former Trump administration that requires goods made in Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank to be labelled "Made in Israel".

Biden has said the two-state solution is the only way to solve the issue. However, during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, he noted that "we are a long way from that goal at this moment".

Israel's ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan echoed that message earlier this month, saying the "[two-state] option is not on the table, so we're focused on what unites us rather than what divides us".

'Not a progressive bill'

The legislation brings a wide range of policy proposals to the table, and has the support of more than a dozen other lawmakers as well as a number of left-leaning pro-Israel groups.

Still, Sana Siddiq, policy manager at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), criticised the bill, saying it would simply return Washington to the pre-Trump status quo on Israel and Palestine.

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One of the main issues, she noted, is that the bill continues support for the annual $3.8bn in US military aid to Israel, which a number of progressive lawmakers have demanded be conditioned in order to hold Israel accountable for its abuses against Palestinians.

"The Two-State Solution Act is not a progressive bill and fails to advance a rights and justice based foreign policy," Siddiq told Middle East Eye.

"It instead focuses on the continued annual transfer of $3.8bn in military funding to Israel. The bill, while opposing settlement expansion in theory, fails to have oversight or enforcement mechanisms to hold Israel accountable."

In a policy memo, USCPR said that while the bill opposes the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, it remains silent on a number of issues, including Israeli settler violence against Palestinians, restrictions on movement, and arbitrary arrests and detentions.

"The Two-State Solution Act is rooted in a flawed 'both sides' framing of what is happening in Palestine and Israel, ignoring the core problem: the Israeli government imposes a system of separate-and-unequal rule over all Palestinians and Israelis, subjecting Palestinians to systemic human rights abuses," said Beth Miller, government affairs manager at JVP Action, a political advocacy group linked to Jewish Voice for Peace.

Miller told MEE that JVP Action is not supporting Levin's bill.

"While there are pieces of the bill that are positive - including aid restrictions on annexation of Palestinian land, settlement construction, demolitions of Palestinian homes, and forced displacement of Palestinians - it falls short of what is needed."

Palestinian rights in US Congress

Palestinian rights have been a growing issue on Capitol Hill, with a number of bills having been introduced in recent years, pushing back on the uncritical US support of Israel that has for decades been a foreign policy staple. 

Earlier this year, Congresswoman Betty McCollum put forward legislation that would ban US aid to Israel from funding annexation or the demolition of Palestinian homes. In 2017 and 2019, she introduced bills that would prohibit US taxpayers' dollars from being used to abuse Palestinian children.

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New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced an amendment to this year's National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA), the country's annual defence spending bill, that would block a $735m arms sale to Israel.

Still, efforts have so far not passed through the US legislature. 

On Tuesday, US House Democrats removed $1bn in military funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system from a major budget bill after objections from the Democratic Party's Congressional Progressive Caucus. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he would bring forward a bill later this week to fully fund the system, which is expected to pass.

"Palestinians have long been clear in their demands - stop US complicity in Israeli human rights abuses and divest from harm and violence," Siddiq said.

"We will continue working to support bills and policy letters that are aligned with a rights and accountability based framework, and that advance justice for all."

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