Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, represents Maryland in the U.S. Senate. Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat, represents Virginia’s 11th Congressional District in the House of Representatives.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have narrowly prevailed in Israel’s election this week — but at what cost?
Netanyahu’s full-throated embrace of the far right’s extreme agenda has placed him on a dangerous track that is not in the interest of Israel, the Palestinians or the United States. As longtime supporters of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, we are deeply concerned about recent developments. If enacted, these policies would fundamentally change the character of Israel, undermine basic Palestinian human rights and violate long-held policies and values adopted by U.S. presidents of both parties to achieve a future two-state solution that enables Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and dignity alongside each other. That’s why Congress cannot afford to look the other way.
Netanyahu has demonstrated increasing disregard for international law and human rights — accelerating construction for thousands of settler housing units in the West Bank, allowing the forcible removal of Arab families from their homes in East Jerusalem and sanctioning violence against Palestinians in the occupied territories. He has also aligned himself with openly racist factions that have supported the removal of Palestinians from the occupied territories. In this context, his recently announced pledge to annex all settlements in the West Bank can be viewed only as the first step toward a West Bank with enclaves of stateless Palestinians or of a greater Israel without Palestinians.
These developments have not taken place in a vacuum. They have been recklessly aided and abetted by President Trump, whose indiscriminate support for Netanyahu and the Israeli far right has been characterized by total disregard for long-standing U.S. policy, international law and regional stability. The administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem outside of a negotiated framework, close the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem and end support for all humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were part of a strategy to force Palestinians to abandon their aspirations for their future. And this dangerous, shortsighted approach has continued. Just this week, at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would not confirm whether the administration would oppose any plan to unilaterally annex the West Bank — a long-held U.S. position critical, among other things, to preserving any prospect for a two-state solution.
What do these developments mean for American supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship, both in and outside of Congress? This is a time for honesty. And while Trump and Netanyahu loyalists can be counted on to paint any criticism of their policies as anti-Israel, the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Standing up against this extreme agenda is vital for the security and prosperity of both our nations.
We have both strongly supported defense cooperation and security assistance to Israel, including the agreement reached by President Barack Obama to provide Israel with about $38 billion in security assistance over the next 10 years. We have always viewed this support as critical to ensuring that Israel can defend itself against the threats it faces throughout the region — and with the expectation that it would enable Israel to make the difficult compromises necessary for peace. But a strong military is not all that is required to ensure Israel’s long-term security and stability as a Jewish and democratic state. Also necessary is a settlement that recognizes the human and political rights of the Palestinian people through the creation of an independent Palestinian state that recognizes Israel’s right to exist within its own borders.
Trump has abdicated the U.S. role in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and has attempted to exploit Israel for partisan political advantage. Given what we have already seen, there is no reason to believe that his administration will offer anything close to a credible proposal to resolve the conflict peacefully. So Congress must pass legislation calling for the protection of the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians and opposing any actions that sabotage a future two-state solution — including any expansions of settlements to new areas and any effort to unilaterally annex any or all of the West Bank. Congress must also restore basic assistance to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and support schools and hospitals in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
We believe the vast majority of Americans, including the overwhelming majority of the U.S. Jewish community, support the positions we have outlined. The truly pro-Israel position is one that recognizes the reality that a two-state solution is the only way to ensure a secure and democratic Jewish state and recognizes the political and human rights of the Palestinians. Being pro-Israel doesn’t mean we have to support Netanyahu’s policies any more than being pro-American requires us to support Trump’s policies. In the context of recent developments, Congress cannot afford to be silent.