Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is viewed by most as a stalwart, rational and articulate friend of the state of Israel, who is laser-focused on maximizing the mutual benefits of the U.S.-Israel relationship. As one of the vocal supporters of Trump administration policies, he is known to have the president’s ear, particularly on sensitive issues of foreign policy. So it was attention-worthy last week when Graham sought to cool the talk of Israel annexing part or all of the West Bank, and very publicly spoke against the idea of creating a single state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.
“I can’t envision a one-state solution,” Graham said. “It won’t work. I mean, you’d have to disenfranchise the Palestinians, that won’t work. If you let them vote, as one state, they’ll overwhelm the Israelis. That won’t work. So if you want to have a democratic, secure Jewish state, I think you have to have two states to make that work.”
That common-sense approach was, historically, the policy of U.S. and Israeli governments, the Palestinian Authority and most of the world community. But things have changed. Through a combination of intransigence, frustration and diplomatic failures, even the words “two-state solution” has fallen out of favor. Indeed, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, was reported to be pressing Graham (without success) to omit the phrase “two-state solution” from a non-binding, bi-partisan resolution in support of “two states for two peoples” that Graham and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) plan to introduce in the U.S. Senate.
Over in the House, a similar resolution has 123 co-sponsors out of 235 in the Democratic caucus. But Republican support for the effort that envisions a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with security guarantees for Israel, is evaporating. Instead, unilateral government action such as the expansion of settlements and annexation of territories (euphemistically called “extending sovereignty”) is being promoted here and in Israel, and the idea of efforts to settle difficult problems by negotiation has been all but abandoned.
This controversial approach was further advanced last week when U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told the New York Times: “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.” Since Friedman was referring to unilateral Israeli action, rather than the result of negotiations, his comments increased the drumbeat toward annexation and away from a negotiated resolution.
It is for all these reasons that Graham’s very public comments about, explanations for and support of a two-state solution are so significant. He and his co-sponsors may be swimming against the tide, but they bring clear arguments, sound policy and the promise of hope for the survival of a negotiated resolution to the most thorny of political issues in the Middle East.
We wish Sens. Graham and Van Hollen success in their bipartisan effort.