In 1990, as a 29-year-old graduate student at the University of Michigan, I helped organize an interfaith delegation to Israel and Palestine. Upon returning from my trip – my first to the region – I wrote an op-ed for the Detroit Jewish News urging my fellow American Jews to speak out in favor of a two-state solution and an end to the occupation. I asked, “Why don’t we join thousands of brave Israelis in opposing the policies of their government as it goes against Israel’s own interests and denigrates centuries of struggle of the Jewish people against injustice?
It was, at the time, a radical position in our community, and one that did not earn me many friends among some powerful American Jewish organizations. Today, however, supporting a two-state solution is not only uncontroversial – it sometimes seems trite and even meaningless.
In recent years, saying that we support a two-state solution has become like offering “thoughts and prayers” in the aftermath of a mass shooting. People say they support two states, but the words are not linked to any act; and actions that endanger the possibility of a viable Palestinian state are often met with silence.
We no longer have the time to stop acting, nor to look away. America must reaffirm its long-standing role in bringing these two parties together and helping to create the conditions for real peace and security.
Earlier this year, we witnessed a conflict in Israel and Gaza that claimed hundreds of lives and caused devastating damage to homes and livelihoods, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We have seen riots erupt in Israeli cities once applauded as models of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Palestinians. All of this happened in the context of a the deepening of the occupation in the Palestinian territories which, if continued unabated, will completely exclude the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.
As we enter a new year in the Jewish calendar, I believe that we must also enter a new chapter. It is by chance that we find ourselves at the beginning of a Shmita year. According to the Shmita project, “In this seventh year, God commands us to let the earth rest, pay off debts, resolve disputes, and open our hands and hearts to those in need. As a Jew and a member of Congress, I feel compelled to do what I can to resolve a dispute that has claimed thousands of lives and torn the Jewish community apart for decades and to work more urgently to secure the future. Israel as a democratic state and homeland for the Jewish people is safe and the aspirations of the Palestinians for a state of their own can be fulfilled.
That is why I introduced the Two-State Solution Act, a bill aimed at accelerating progress towards a two-state solution and discouraging actions that put one out of reach. It clarifies the distinction between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and overturns policies put in place by the Trump administration that have removed those distinctions. It also funds programs to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law and to strengthen Palestinian civil society organizations. On top of that, the bill stresses the importance of diplomacy, encouraging the reopening of the PLO’s foreign mission in Washington and improving interpersonal programming for Israelis and Palestinians.
The bill also reaffirms the importance of US security aid to Israel, while specifying that there should be strict control over such aid, as there should be over aid to any countries, and that the laws authorizing this aid do not allow its use for activities that perpetuate the occupation or allow annexation – whether de jure Where de facto – from the West Bank.
This provision can elicit condemnations like the ones I heard 30 years ago when I spoke on behalf of two states.
Critics will say the bill sets Israel apart by imposing restrictions, even though Congress specifies which taxpayer dollars can and cannot be used all the time. I myself have drafted such provisions, such as the one that states that no US funding can be used for assistance to the Armed Forces of Haiti.
They will say that the bill would make Israel less secure, even if it does not diminish the support that the United States gives to Israel for its security, if only by a dollar, and even if it does not. There is no reason to believe that prolonging the status quo – and continuing to restrict the rights of the Palestinian people – will bring peace and security to the Israelis. Peace with Egypt and the return from Sinai improved Israel’s security. Peace with Jordan has improved Israel’s security. The situation has been going on for 54 years, and it has led to recurrent bloodshed, increased isolation and has failed to bring security or peace to the Israelis.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians lack the status quo. If we are to embrace the concept of Shmita and use this moment to resolve differences, then we cannot shirk our responsibility to act to establish a peaceful coexistence between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Levin represents Michigan’s 9th District and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.