US Democrats introduce bill backing ‘end to Israel’s occupation’

Proposed bill calls for ‘robust oversight’ on US aid to Israel, but Palestinian rights group says it falls short.

Congressman Andy Levin, who introduced the bill on Thursday, said US must play 'muscular' role in pushing for two-state solution [File: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg]

Washington, DC – Democratic Party legislators in the United States have introduced a bill affirming support for the two-state solution and calling for “robust oversight” on US aid to Israel to ensure it is not used in human rights violations.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Congressman Andy Levin on Thursday, would make it US policy to clearly distinguish between Israel and the Palestinian territory that it occupies, including East Jerusalem.

The bill also calls on the US government to maintain diplomatic relations with Palestinians by reopening the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, DC, and the American consulate in East Jerusalem – both shuttered by former President Donald Trump.

Joe Biden had promised to re-establish ties with Palestinians, but eight months into his presidency the consulate in occupied East Jerusalem has yet to reopen.

“The bill makes clear that assistance to help Israel address its very real security challenges should continue without $1-loss,” Levin said during a news conference in Washington, DC, unveiling the bill.

“But it cannot be used in a manner that violates internationally recognised human rights, or for activities that perpetuate the occupation or enable de facto – or heaven knows de jure – annexation.”

Levin of Michigan said Congress having a say over how US taxpayer money is spent is “nothing new”, but in this case, it is “essential if we’re serious about achieving a two-state solution and upholding the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians alike”.

Not far enough

It has been the policy of successive US administrations to support the two-state solution, which would see the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. But critics of American policy say the US government has not put enough pressure on Israel towards that end.

Palestinian rights advocates also for years have said the two-state solution is impossible due to continued Israeli settlement-building in the occupied Palestinian territory, and many criticise the two-state idea as a way for Israel to maintain the status quo.

More than 680,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to a recent UN report. Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in the 1967 war. It annexed East Jerusalem in 1980.

In a statement on Thursday, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) said Levin’s legislation does not go far enough in pressuring Israel.

“Palestinians have long been clear in their demands – stop US complicity in Israeli human rights abuses and divest from harm and violence,” the group said, adding that measures towards that end must hold Israel accountable for its abuses and meaningfully oppose the “separate-and-unequal” reality that Palestinians are living under.

“The Two State Solution Act does not pass these two basic requirements and thus cannot be a progressive bill on Palestine,” USCPR said.

Growing debate

Still, Thursday’s bill comes amid a growing debate over US aid to Israel, with several progressive legislators calling for conditions to be placed on the $3.8bn in annual military assistance the US provides to the Israeli government.

Earlier this year, Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum introduced a bill that would similarly restrict the use of US aid so it does not contribute to Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory or to the imprisonment of Palestinian children, among other things.

But Biden has largely kept with decades of US support for Israel. In a speech at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, he reasserted his backing of the two-state solution, but his administration has refrained from publicly criticising Israeli policies.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who met with Biden in Washington, DC, last month, has ruled out allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state under his government.

The bill introduced on Thursday, dubbed the Two-State Solution Act, says the establishment of Israeli settlements is “inconsistent with international law”; it also calls for “an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories”.

It was announced hours before the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to provide $1bn in additional funding to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system.

In response to a question by Al Jazeera, Levin acknowledged the challenges facing the two-state solution, including Bennett’s stance, but he said it is important to put in the work in order to open new possibilities.

“What’s been missing is the US playing its role – its muscular, robust role – of saying to these two peoples: We are going to support you and bring you together through thick and thin so that we can achieve lasting peace,” Levin said.

The bill is co-sponsored by more than two dozen Democrats, including several prominent Jewish members of the House.

Source: Al Jazeera