CMEP Bulletin: Congressional Give and Take Over Israel-Palestine Strategy
A recent exchange of congressional letters illustrates how the Israel-Palestine conflict gets played out on Capitol Hill, as Israel government supporters seek to block international efforts to promote negotiations aimed at ending the conflict.
In mid-April House Members Nita Lowey (D-NY-17) and Kay Granger (R-TX-12) circulated a letter to Secretary Kerry signed by almost the entire House of Representatives – 394 out of 435 Members – saying that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be “imposed,” and only the parties themselves, by themselves, can end their conflict through a negotiated agreement.
This view is a perennial “ask” by Israel’s largest lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). AIPAC, Lowey and Granger are concerned in particular about efforts now underway to get the US and others to encourage negotiations through bilateral or multilateral efforts. Israel’s longstanding preference has been to be left to work out their differences with Palestinians by themselves, at their own pace, a process that has now played out for nearly 50 years.
However, given the asymmetry of power between the two sides, and the need for both to give up cherished goals if they are to reach any agreement, a “hands off” approach almost guarantees another 50 years of Palestinians of living under Israeli military occupation while Israelis continue to live with anger, violence, threats of violence, and instability on their borders. In the right circumstances outside political pressure could be positively helpful and even necessary to a politician who genuinely wants an agreement.
Following the Lowey-Granger letter, David Price (D-NC-4) and John Yarmuth (D-KY-3) submitted Resolution H. Res 686 on April 21 that encourages the US government to, “help provide a political horizon for ending the conflict by articulating a non-binding vision of what a comprehensive final status agreement might entail that could help foster and guide revived negotiations between the parties.” Four other members, all Democrats, co-sponsored the Resolution: Barbara Lee (D-CA-41), Steve Cohen (D-TN-9), Peter Welch (D-VT at large), and Janice Schakowasky (D-IL-9).
Nita Lowey shot back the next day with her own letter to all other House Members, urging them not to co-sponsor H Res. 686 as it risks hardening the positions of both sides and would make it harder to reach any agreement.
The idea of the US providing a “political horizon” to serve as negotiating bench marks to facilitate future negotiations has been around for some time. President Bill Clinton suggested “parameters” when negotiations failed at the end of 2000. Obama reportedly suggested terms of a “framework” for agreement to PA President Abbas privately when negotiations were faltering in March 2014. There has been widespread speculation that President Obama wants to do something public along these lines before he leaves office next January.
This question of outside pressure on Israel and Palestine for peace will come up again soon. France has announced plans for a meeting at the end of May, probably of the Quartet (US, UN, EU, and Russia) plus some Arab states (Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia) to discuss incentives and disincentives to encourage Israel and Palestine to negotiate. As the status quo party, Israel opposes holding such a meeting and is lobbying other governments hard against attending the meeting. Palestine supports it. The US is still on the fence. It sees no point in going unless there are reasonable prospects it could lead to something positive. The US and Israel are also uncomfortable letting another power, such as France, take the lead on this issue. On the other hand, the US said recently it believes it has an obligation to push Israel as hard as it can towards the two state solution.