Andy Levin, Democratic congressman from Michigan, introduced a bill in the US congress on Thursday, September 13, which seeks to formalize the US policy towards Palestine and its support for a two-state solution.
The bill, supported by a dozen other lawmakers, also asks the US government to formally recognize the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as occupied territories and effectively make all Israeli settlements in these territories illegal. So far, the US has refrained from treating the Israeli settlements as “illegal”, despite criticizing their expansion from time to time.
The bill titled “The Two State Solution Act” also asks the US to maintain a formal diplomatic relationship with Palestine, with re-opening of its consulate in East Jerusalem and opening the office of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Washington DC. Both the institutions were shut down during the Donald Trump presidency when it decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved its embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The bill also asks the US government to recognize the labels of “made in West Bank” and “Made in Gaza” for goods produced and imported from the occupied territories, instead of a Trump-era policy of asking them to be labeled as “made in Israel”.
Though the bill recognizes the possible threats to Israel’s security and asks for its maintenance, it also asks the US to make sure that Israel does not use the security threats to “violate internationally recognized human rights, or for activities that perpetuate the occupation or enable de facto – or heaven knows de jure – annexation,” Levin said in a press conference.
Biden had promised that he will restore relations with Palestine, which were severed during Trump’s rule. However, it has been more than eight months and most of the measures taken under Trump have not been reversed by the Biden administration, including the opening of the consulate in East Jerusalem.
Congress approves additional financial aid to Israel
The bill comes at a time when there are growing demands to put conditions on the military aid to Israel, which receives around USD 3.8 billion annual military assistance from the US. Some lawmakers introduced an amendment in the annual defense bill to cut the military aid to Israel, which was defeated in the congress.
Despite all this, the US congress approved an additional USD 1 billion funding for the Iron Dome Missile defense system on Thursday, with 420 votes in favor and just nine in opposition. Last year, the US congress had approved USD 73 million specifically for the Iron Dome system.
The bill also comes amidst a popular campaign to cut the US’ military budget, led by anti-war group CODEPINK and others. Progressive lawmaker Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has also introduced an amendment in the defense bill which, if passed, would block US’ arms sales to Israel.
Critics of the proposed bill by Levin argue that it fails to ask for the US to stop its funding to Israel. The bill also fails to acknowledge the widespread human rights violations carried out by Israel against the Palestinians, as well as the practicality of the two-state solution at a time of large-scale expansion of settlements and growing realization of the difficulties involved. The US campaign for Palestinian Rights, in a statement on Thursday, said that the bill repeats “harmful status quo policies” and states opposition “to Israeli occupation while actually enabling it.”