United States support for Israel as a democracy and a national home for the Jewish people is a historic commitment, which has played a powerful role in safeguarding the region’s first democratic state. The enduring relationship between the U.S. and Israel is rooted in shared values and promotes shared security and economic interests. The U.S. also holds dear its commitment to human rights everywhere, including to the dignity, security, and self-determination of Palestinians.
In 1947 and in the wake of the Second World War, the United Nations passed Resolution 181, which laid the foundation for the partition of Palestine. The Arab and Jewish communities were accorded different territories, with Jerusalem as an internationally administered city. The Palestinian community and surrounding Arab countries rejected the resolution, refusing to accept the creation of a Jewish state. The ensuing conflict, referred to as the Arab-Israeli War in the West, led to the defeat of the Arab armies and the successful establishment of Israel. The conflict expanded Israel’s borders beyond the original partition plan and created a wave of more than 750,000 Palestinian refugees.
of Jewish American voters support the two-state solution, according to 2020 election-night polling from JStreet.
Successive Israeli victories in the wars of 1967 and 1973 resulted in the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. These wars resulted in more Palestinians being displaced, many fleeing to neighboring Arab countries. As a result of the war in 1973 and American mediation under President Jimmy Carter, Egypt began normalizing relations with Israel, culminating in the return of the Sinai Peninsula, a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and Egyptian recognition of Israel as a sovereign state.
Gaza and the West Bank remained under Israeli military occupation throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s. During this time, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) began negotiating a peaceful settlement. The Oslo Accords of 1993 facilitated the creation of the Palestinian Authority and the withdrawal of Israeli military forces from the West Bank and Gaza. The Accords were signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzakh Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. The peace process has since become complicated by growing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the continued Israeli military presence in the West Bank, and a blockade on Gaza.
Beginning with the American recognition of Israeli sovereignty, the U.S. has maintained a special relationship with Israel. But the U.S.-Israel relationship need not come at the expense of America’s ability to maintain productive and beneficial relations throughout the Middle East.
The U.S. has sought to act as a neutral intermediary between Arab and Israeli interests. The role of intermediary has allowed the U.S. to influence and encourage negotiations between the two sides. A cornerstone of these negotiations has been the two-state solution, which seeks to establish two separate states for Palestinians and Israelis connected by secure and recognized borders, and a just resolution for displaced refugees. A two-state solution, which has been U.S. policy since the George W. Bush administration, is crucial for the conflicting parties and for advancing American regional interests in lasting stability and security.
of Jewish American voters say that the two-state solution is an important national security interest of the United States, according to a November 2018 survey from JStreet.
The Trump administration upended American diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict peacefully and to advance a two-state solution. By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and closing the U.S. consulate in Palestine, President Trump undermined the U.S. as a neutral intermediary and the prospects of a two-state solution. These moves went against decades of international consensus and diplomatic efforts to keep Jerusalem a neutral city to be shared by the Palestinian and Jewish peoples. Further removing any pretense of neutrality and greatly harming the U.S. in its role as an intermediary, President Trump discontinued contributions to the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency while committing more than half of all U.S. foreign military aid to Israel. President Trump’s rhetoric and actions emboldened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a number of steps that undermine the viability of the two-state solution while raising questions about the future of U.S. policy, such as when Prime Minister Netanyahu announced plans to build homes within East Jerusalem and, later, plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
In January of 2020, President Trump released his proposed Israel-Palestine peace deal. This deal, drafted by the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, only granted Palestine limited sovereignty, does not adequately address the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and grants Israel full control over Jerusalem. The plan disregards decades of the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution and was quickly rejected by Palestinian authorities.
Although the Trump administration was unsuccessful in bringing its peace plan to fruition, it has nevertheless claimed that its brokering of normalization agreements, later dubbed the Abraham Accords, between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Israel brought historic peace to the region. While this represented progress between critical U.S. allies, the fact remains that the Abraham Accords nations had never been at war against one another and that normalization simply formalized diplomatic relationships that had existed for years. In reality, the Abraham Accords further reduced the likelihood of a two-state solution, dimming Palestinian hopes of nationhood, jeopardizing Israeli democratic values, and threatening U.S. interests in the region.
The Biden-Harris administration has already begun to reset U.S. policy on Israel-Palestine. Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Mills assured the U.N. Security Council in January that the U.S. will “support a mutually agreed, two-state solution, in which Israel lives in peace and security, alongside a viable Palestinian state”. The Biden-Harris administration has also announced the restoration of aid to the Palestinians. In April 2021, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that the U.S. would provide $150 million in humanitarian aid, through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, as well as another $75 million for economic development programs in the West Bank and Gaza. An additional $10 million will be provided for peace-building operations carried out by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Time and again, the administration has underscored the fact that Israel and Palestine are like parties and have gone on to say that both peoples “deserve equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity, and dignity.”
While the Biden-Harris administration has taken steps to realign U.S. policy in support of greater dialogue between Israel and Palestine and reinstate the policy precedents that Trump flouted, many pieces of Trump’s policy toward Israel has remained. To this day, the U.S. diplomatic mission to Israel is still based in Jerusalem, there remains no U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem or Ramallah, the administration continues to assert Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and military aid to Israel has increased to levels even beyond the Trump administration.
For decades, the United States has led international efforts to advance a solution to the conflict that offers both Israelis and Palestinians dignity, security, and self-determination. Working towards a two-state solution, which has been U.S. policy since the George W. Bush administration, is crucial for all parties to the conflict and for advancing American regional interests in enduring stability and security. The Trump administration’s actions have put the two-state solution and America’s leadership in Arab-Israeli peacemaking at risk and set back the human rights, civil rights, and right to self-determination of the Palestinians.
We’re asking members of Congress to take proactive steps to maintain the viability of the two-state solution aligned with international law and to reject actions that undermine its path forward. Join us by calling your congressional representatives at (202) 224-3121 today. Here’s what you can say:
POLITICO, July 2022What Is U.S. Policy on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?
Council on Foreign Relations, July 202210 Things to Know: Biden’s Approach to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
US Institute of Peace, June 2021