Seventy three Democrats in the House of Representatives recently sent U.S. President Joe Biden a letter asking him to reverse his predecessor’s policy on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
Contending that Donald Trump’s Republican administration had abandoned the United States’ “longstanding, bipartisan” approach, the legislators affirmed their support for a two-state solution and urged Biden to promote policies that uphold this positive vision of peace.
It is a laudable and realistic position, and it is one that more Democrats, as well as Republicans, should endorse.
The letter calls on Biden to consider Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as illegal and to classify the West Bank as occupied.
Since the Six Day War, the vast majority of U.S. presidents have hewed to these positions. Trump, however, veered away from them, much to the satisfaction of Israel’s right-wing government and to the detriment of a possible rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians, as represented by the Palestinian Authority.
In addition, the letter urges Biden to condemn “specific actions that violate the rights of either party or undermine the prospects for peace,” advises him to dump Trump’s one-sided peace plan, and asks him to pressure the Israeli government to stop the planned eviction of Palestinians from their homes in eastern Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in 1967.
This is an even-measured letter whose message meshes with the Democratic Party’s traditional view of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Its signatories are responsible, even-handed people of leadership in Congress. They include John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Katherine Clarke of Massachusetts. Seven are Jewish: Yarmuth, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Alan Lowenthal and Sara Jacobs of California, Andy Levin of Michigan, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, and Jamie Raskin of Maryland.
If Biden accepts their recommendations, the United States will be far better placed to be an honest broker and facilitate meaningful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The last such talks, initiated by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013, ended on a sour note in the spring of 2014 without a single concrete accomplishment.
From that point forward, the then Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, gradually withdrew his lukewarm endorsement of a two-state solution, which he had been coerced to adopt.
Only too glad to manage rather than resolve this protracted and costly conflict, Netanyahu expanded Israel’s maze of settlements in the West Bank. And at one point last summer, in line with Trump’s ill-conceived peace plan, he seriously considered annexing the Jordan Valley.
It is debatable whether Biden will abide by the letter. Unlike Obama, he prefers to keep differences with Israel behind closed doors and is reluctant to criticize the Israeli government openly. But if the stultifying status quo in Israel’s relations with the Palestinians is ever to be broken, Biden will have to speak up, whether in private or in public.
He should not allow the current situation to drift. It is a prescription for further violence, bloodshed and Israel’s incremental transformation into a binational state.
In his first major speech in office, Israel’s new foreign minister, Yair Lapid, pledged to revive Israel’s relationship with the Democratic Party, which frayed under Netanyahu’s watch. “The (former) government took a terrible gamble, reckless and dangerous, to focus exclusively on the Republican Party and abandon Israel’s bipartisan standing,” he said. “We need to change the way we work with them.”
Lapid is right. But he should bear in mind that a new start with the Democrats may be bumpy. It will oblige Israel to accept constructive criticism of the kind proposed by the congressional letter, which Biden should embrace without equivocation sooner rather than later.