‘Illegal Settlements’ – Senator Dick Durbin Gets It Wrong

I have other topics on which I’d like to write – but this topic keeps coming up, so I’m writing about it again. And that I have to write about it again is part of the continuing problem.

The latest occasion: at AIPAC’s suggestion, I sent an email to my two Illinois senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, urging them to support Senate Bill 2680, a bill by Senator Marco Rubio that “imposes sanctions targeting Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and any affiliate or successor groups.” https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2680?r=2&s=1. The bill is bipartisan, co-sponsored by 16 Republican and 7 Democratic Senators.

I received a form email response from Senator Durbin. Fair enough – I’d sent him AIPAC’s form email urging support for the bill, and have no issue with him sending me back a form response. The problem – and the reason for this article – is the content of that response.

Here is what he wrote:

I support the establishment of a two-state solution through peaceful negotiations in which both sides agree to reject violence and stop settlements in the disputed land.  The establishment of two states must take into account the sovereignty of each nation and the safety of its people.  Hamas must reject terrorism and stop launching rockets into Israel, and Israel must take steps to address the issue of illegal settlements and work to improve the everyday lives of Palestinians.

(emphasis added).

I support a two-state solution too. I recognize that Palestinians also have a narrative, also have a history in the land, also have a right to self-determination. More importantly, I believe that solution is best for the Jews too – the best chance to live in a Jewish state without continually having a population fighting from within to end it. Two states for two peoples.

But Senator Durbin’s formulation makes such a solution impossible. Not only does it enable Israel’s haters but even more basically, it is fundamentally wrong and counterproductive. Supporters of a two-state solution do not encourage that solution by wrongly asserting that settlements are an obstacle to peace or by giving the Palestinians yet more excuses to avoid the very “peaceful negotiations” that Senator Durbin claims to prefer. https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/no-the-u-s-is-not-reversing-u-s-policy/; https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/we-must-fault-those-who-refer-to-occupation-a-response-to-steve-sheffey/. As noted in these links, even the most progressive supporters of a two-state solution recognize that settlements will be part of Israel, with land swaps, if and when a two-state solution is ever reached.

Instead, misguided statements like Senator Durbin’s empower continued rejectionism by the Palestinians and BDS supporters, providing them hope that continued one-sided attacks on Israel in the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) (which recently announced a “reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine” regarding whether “war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem” – that investigation is based mainly on the erroneous assumption that settlements are “illegal”) and other international bodies will foster their overall aim of ending Israel’s existence. We will never reach peace, two-state solution or otherwise, as long as the Palestinians continue to teach hate and a refusal to accept Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state in their schools and in their media.

In many ways, Senator Durbin’s email is worse yet. He is not Representative Omar, Representative Tlaib, or other Israel hater whom many Democrats claim are on the fringes of the Democratic Party. Rather, he is the Senate Democratic Whip, the second highest Democratic leader in the Senate. He is not a fringe Democrat – he is the very definition of “main stream.” That makes his misdescription of settlements under international law all the more disturbing – and dangerous not only for Israel and American Jews that support Israel, but for his own professed support of the way forward.

I am a proud AIPAC club member. I strongly, strongly, strongly agree that bipartisan support for Israel is essential, and that it must never become a wedge issue between Democrats and Republicans; I decry and reject those Republicans who try to use it as such for political gain.

But it was also Senator Durbin who was one of the architects of the vote against cloture in the Senate on the JCPOA/Iran Deal. And it was Senator Durbin, despite 78 co-sponsors including 30 Democrats, who put a hold on the resolution to condemn the U.S. failure to veto U.N. Resolution 2334. https://www.timesofisrael.com/democratic-senator-places-hold-on-resolution-slamming-un/See also https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-resolution/6?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22STOP+Act%22%5D%7D.

I recognize that Senator Durbin has supported funding of U.S. aid to Israel, so the issue of whether he is or is not “pro-Israel” is not a simple one.

But for me, his form email response crossed the line. It displayed unacceptable – and dangerous – ignorance.

About the Author
David H. Levitt practices intellectual property and commercial litigation law in Chicago, and is a pro-Israel activist.
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