Two congressional resolutions that won’t advance Israeli-Palestinian peace

Congress, as much as this and past administrations, is responsible for the current state of affairs in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Saturday 20/07/2019
A file photo shows Pro-Palestinian demonstrators march against US aid to Israel, in Beverly Hills, California. (AFP)
A file photo shows Pro-Palestinian demonstrators march against US aid to Israel, in Beverly Hills, California. (AFP)

The US House Committee on Foreign Affairs is scheduled to move on four bills — all of which drive more nails in the coffin of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Two of the proposed bills are blatantly pro-Israel but it is two relatively more benign pieces of legislation that cause me real concern.

House Resolution 246 — “Opposing efforts to de-legitimise the State of Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” — is a non-binding resolution putting Congress on record in opposition to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Unlike earlier versions, Resolution 246 does not impose penalties on BDS supporters nor does it conflate Israel and “areas under Israeli control” — a not too clever way designed to recognise Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements. For this reason, this resolution has won the support of liberal groups and is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 338 members of Congress.

Resolution 246 includes language calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stating: “Both the Israeli and Palestinian people should be able to live in safe and sovereign states, free from fear and violence, with mutual recognition.” It “urges the Israelis and Palestinians to return to direct negotiations as the only way to achieve an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The bulk of the resolution is devoted to a series of “Whereas” and “Resolved” clauses opposing BDS. The clauses mischaracterise the goals of the BDS movement, misquote the BDS movement co-founder and falsely claim that BDS targets not just the state of Israel but individual Jews “who support Israel.”

Resolution 246 concerns me for two principal reasons:

Far from being a benign resolution, the measure has been correctly described by the Arab American Institute as a “transparent ploy” that delegitimises a legal and non-violent movement that advocates for Palestinian human rights and secures the blessing of an overwhelming majority of Congress in this effort.

While this non-binding resolution does not criminalise BDS, by defaming the practices advocated by the movement and putting Congress on record in opposition to it, Resolution 246 opens the door to state laws and future congressional efforts to do so.

Resolution 246’s profession of support for a two-state solution and its implication that the BDS movement is an obstacle to reaching that goal can only be described as naive or even disingenuous.

Nowhere in the resolution is there any mention of any of obstacles posed by the Israeli government: the 620,000 settlers living in settlements that have, by design, carved the areas West Bank open to Palestinians into non-contiguous “Bantustans”; the aggressive land grabs, demolition of Palestinian homes; the brutal behaviour of occupation authorities; the policies of the Israeli government and its opposition, both of which see no place for the “viable” Palestinian state called for in Resolution 246; or the annexationist policies under way in the area referred to “East Jerusalem,” having a profoundly negative effect on the lives of the 320,000 Palestinian citizens who live there.

All of this is ignored, as is congressional complicity in these Israeli policies. Despite several past US administrations calling on Israel to stop settlement construction, not only do they continue but they continue with Congress’s blessing in the form of increased aid and not only no US sanctions but not even a rebuke.

When the Palestinians have appealed to the United Nations or other international bodies such as the International Criminal Court, the response of US administrations or Congress has been to punish the Palestinians and the international organisations in question.

As a result, the only recourse Palestinians have had is in the court of public opinion. Hence, the BDS movement. Their successes have been greeted by Israel and now the US Congress with hysteria. Hence, the effort to delegitimise and defame the movement with criminalisation sure to follow.

The second measure before Congress is House Resolution 326 “Regarding efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a negotiated two-state solution.” This is also a non-binding resolution. It is sponsored by 144 members of Congress and has a companion bill before the US Senate (Senate Resolution 234) that is sponsored by nine Democrats, including two presidential aspirants: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Resolution 326 includes one very positive “Whereas” clause that calls for “an end to the occupation, including opposing settlement activity and moves towards unilateral annexation in Palestinian territory.”

Because such strong language has never before appeared in a congressional bill with this many sponsors, Resolution 326 is deserving of support. It should be recalled that we were unable to get the Clinton campaign to insert the words “settlements” and “occupation” in the 2016 Democratic Party Platform.

Even with this, I am concerned that this support for a “two-state solution” not be turned into what I have termed “a two-state absolution,” which sees members of Congress going on record in support of an outcome but absolving themselves of responsibility to address what can be done to realise that outcome and if it is even possible to achieve a viable “two-state solution” given realities in the occupied territories.

Opposing settlements is one thing but what, other than hand-wringing, is the congressional response to continued construction and how will the members deal with the 620,000 settlers who reside in the West Bank?

Calling for an end to the occupation and opposing annexation is one thing but what has been and will be the response of Congress to Israel’s deeper encroachment into the territories and its de facto annexation of large areas of Palestinian lands that have been captured inside what Israel calls East Jerusalem and behind its West Bank Wall?

Being opposed to something is one thing, acting against what you oppose is quite another.

The bottom line is that Congress, as much as this and past administrations, is responsible for the current state of affairs in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Decades of congressional inaction in the face of Israeli transgressions of international law and the human rights of the occupied Palestinian people have resulted in Israeli impunity — the Israelis know they can get away with anything — and deepening Palestinian despair — the Palestinians have lost hope that the United States will ever hear their cries for justice.

These two measures, one of which blames the victims and the other that would allow some members of Congress to feel “they’re off the hook,” cause me to be concerned.