House Democrats are fighting among themselves over a single word in a resolution to reaffirm support for a two-state solution in the Middle East, a dispute that threatens to further inflame tensions within the caucus over Israel.
The clash between senior Democrats — including the House Foreign Affairs chairman — has prompted Democratic leaders to abandon plans to vote on a resolution that would renew commitment for a basic tenet of U.S.-Israel policy, according to multiple lawmakers and aides.
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The resolution to endorse a two-state solution, drafted by Democratic Reps. Alan Lowenthal and Karen Bass of California and Gerry Connolly of Virginia, was expected to receive a vote this week with overwhelming support from the Democratic Caucus.
But some of the caucus’ staunchest pro-Israel supporters, led by Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) have declined to support the resolution without a key change, pushing Democratic leaders to leave open the possibility of another resolution to the conflict.
The resolution states that “only” a two-state accord can end the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But Engel and others have pushed back, arguing that Democrats should not limit themselves to supporting a single outcome. And privately, members on both sides of the argument acknowledge that the fight over the word “only” belies a far more complex debate over U.S. policy toward Israel.
“I’ve worked real hard on this resolution,” Connolly said in an interview Wednesday. “We felt we had an agreement in the committee and we reported it out with some Republican support. And I’m disappointed that it is not going to come to the floor.”
“I think it’s a missed opportunity, but I look forward to revisiting the issue back in September,” Connolly said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), a vocal supporter of Israel, has sought to downplay the divisions between the two camps as he attempted to bring the resolution to the floor this week.
“I’m trying to get language that I think will be acceptable to the broadest number of people, and Republicans as well,” Hoyer said.
“I think my own view is, one word here, one word there is not what you’re going to — you’re not going to report on the word. What you’re going to report on, in my view, is the House of Representatives reconfirmed its support of the two-state solution. And I hope we can pass a resolution which does that, and that’s what I’m working on.”
Speaking to reporters this week, Hoyer argued that the House had already voted multiple times — including earlier this week on a different Israel policy bill — to formally back a two-state solution.
“The position of the Lowenthal resolution is that we are for a two-state solution, and I think the House has expressed itself a number of times on that,” Hoyer said.
House Democrats had expected an ugly political fight over a different resolution involving U.S. policy toward Israel this week. That measure, which condemned global boycotts against Israel as a way to delegitimize the country, passed easily over the objections of roughly 20 progressive dissenters.
Instead, tensions flared on a bill that was expected to be far less contentious — simply supporting a two-state solution.
“BDS was a very calm and considered judgment, I thought, which was surprising to some people,” Hoyer said Wednesday, referring to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
The decision to postpone the vote could resurface bitter tensions within the caucus over U.S. support for Israel, within a diverse caucus that includes the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Some progressives, including Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), have been publicly critical of U.S. policy toward Israel, drawing repeated charges of anti-Semitism from Republicans and, at times, their own party.
Democrats had spent the week brawling over the issue internally, according to multiple people involved with the discussions. The resolution was the subject of a tense meeting Tuesday night between Hoyer, Engel and other Democrats, including Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).
Democrats were working late Wednesday to ensure the resolution could receive a vote before lawmakers depart for the six-week summer recess.
“It’s still in negotiations, and hopefully we’ll be able to negotiate it so that it will come to the floor,” Engel said in a brief interview Wednesday when asked about his issues with the resolution.
Later Wednesday, Engel added: “There are still things that need to be ironed out. But I think we’re moving in the right direction.”