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The strange vote of the Georgia state legislature

Three U.S. states have been egged on by the ZOA to adopt greater Israel resolutions that contradict Israel’s commitment to two states

Something strange is happening in the state legislatures of some of the southern states of the United States. In between dealing with budgets, taxes, schools and prisons, they have also found time to decide what the future borders of Israel should be.

The latest to act was the State Senate of Georgia, which on January 15 adopted resolution 739 which declares, “Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the land of others, and that peace can be afforded only through a whole and united Israel … including the areas of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.”

This follows almost identical resolutions adopted by both houses of the Florida state legislature in 2012 and by South Carolina’s House of Representatives in 2011. The Republican National Committee has also adopted similar language.

One’s first reaction might be, “haven’t they got anything better to do?” But there is a serious side to these symbolic votes.

The only slightly “hidden hand” coordinating this campaign is the Zionist Organization of America which is adamantly opposed to a two-state solution. “The last thing the world needs is yet another anti-American, anti-Jewish-anti-Christian terrorist dictatorship. Yet that is exactly what a Palestinian state would be,” wrote ZOA president Morton Klein in the organization’s annual report posted on its website.

No doubt, the state representatives of Florida, South Carolina and Georgia were motivated by honest love of Israel and most are probably not deeply immersed in the intricacies of the issue. They think they are doing Israel a favor. Many might be quite surprised to learn that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has committed himself to a two-state solution and is right now negotiating with the Palestinian Authority to bring one about.

They might also be unaware that the previous four prime ministers of Israel – Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin – were also committed to this outcome. They might not realize that every living US President – Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter – Democrats and Republicans alike, also support it and worked for it.

Local Jewish communities have a role here. Though their instinct may be to dismiss these resolutions as irrelevant, they should gently and respectfully point out to their state representatives that such positions are outside of the mainstream of American Jewish and Israeli opinion and therefore are unhelpful.

These resolutions are built around a truly strange legal argument that rests on the authority of the League of Nations, which even when it existed was widely derided for its impotence in the face of Nazi and fascist aggression and is now seen as a massive historic failure.

The argument goes like this: At the San Remo Conference of 1920, which created the British Mandate over Palestine, the final agreement included the language of the Balfour Declaration, in which the British government declared that it “viewed with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

The San Remo resolution was then adopted by the League of Nations. And since the United Nations Charter recognized the continued validity of rights granted to states or peoples by the League of Nations, San Remo remains fully valid.

This twisted logic brings the Georgia resolution to the conclusion that “the 650,000 Jews currently residing in the areas of Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem reside there legitimately.” But of course the League of Nations resolution was superseded by the UN Partition Plan adopted in 1947 which actually led to the establishment of the State of Israel and called for an Arab state also to be established on the land.

Did no one in the state legislatures of George or Florida pause to contemplate the historical irony that the United States refused to join the League of Nations? Why are they now citing this long-defunct body as a legal authority?

The serious point to all this nonsense is that Israel finally signs a peace deal with the Palestinians, which the vast majority of US citizens hope happens soon, right-wing extremists and fringe groups like the ZOA will do their best to sabotage the deal.

They will no doubt go to the congressional representatives of these three states and point out the language of these resolutions. They will try to pretend that there is a consensus around their batty ideas. It’s hard to believe anyone will take them seriously — but one never knows. And so, for the sake of peace and for the sake of Israel, local politicians in the United States who love Israel would be best advised not decide where its borders should be.

About the Author
Alan Elsner, a former Reuters journalist and author, is Vice President for Communications at J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group. He is the author of four books including two novels. Elsner is a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen who lives in Rockville Maryland. His posts at Reuters included Jerusalem correspondent, Chief Nordic Correspondent, State Dept. correspondent, chief U.S. political correspondent and U.S. national correspondent.