Obama vs Romney on Israel Palestine: Why Both Must Pledge to Make the Two State Solution Happen

Last week, the Republican National Committee officially adopted its new platform during the Republican National Convention. However, negotiations over the platform the week prior highlighted an underexposed hot topic in American electoral politics -- the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both the Obama administration (and campaign) and the Romney campaign have addressed the two-state solution. President Barack Obama has asserted this position in numerous speeches, including expressing support for the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines and mutually agreed upon land swaps, which is surprisingly considered groundbreaking for a president to officially state. (And what would the two-state solution look like if not based on these lines?) Presumably, Democrats will renew their previous platform this week, which also asserts the need to take an active role in securing the two-state solution.

Mitt Romney, shyer about expressing support, also endorses this solution. Senator Jim Talent (R-MO), a representative of his campaign during the platform negotiations, fought for the language of “two democratic states.” Three separate amendments voted on by the delegates attempted to remove this language from the platform, with those proposing them asserting that the language of two states undermines other parts of the platform that call for unequivocal support of Israel or that it pressures Israel to negotiate. The Romney campaign successfully advocated for keeping the language in.

How do these political platforms translate into action to actually achieve the two-state solution? Not very well. In 2010, President Obama attempted to renew negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, but ultimately did not succeed when the Israeli government ignored the American administration’s urging to extend a moratorium on settlement building. Since then, and especially as we have approached the election, the administration has been reticent to push either party to take the necessary steps to pave the way for a return to negotiations.

Romney’s statements have undoubtedly appealed to a pro-Israel base (political and financial). While these recent party platform negotiations alluded to Romney’s support for the two-state solution, in a July 2012 visit to Israel, he stated that he will move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (despite the fact that no other country maintains an embassy there, given the disputed nature of Jerusalem). Romney has not outlined what a two-state solution looks like, and given this statement on Jerusalem it is hard to envision him pushing for one that includes the compromises that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders demand from the other side. For example, it is unlikely that the Palestinians will accept any state that does not maintain its capital in Jerusalem. It is difficult to imagine a Romney administration brokering negotiations that both parties are willing to sit down to, given statements like these.

So what about what Israelis and Palestinians themselves want and need? How does political posturing and positions to ensure votes affect the situation on the ground in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories? Given ongoing conflict and occupation, Palestinians and Israelis continue to live under daily threats to their security, democracy, livelihood, rights, and futures. Their leaders need to take the steps, no matter how politically difficult, that will unfreeze the negotiations process. These include a settlement freeze and verbally vowing a return to serious negotiations that resolve all final status issues, and ends all claims in accordance with international resolutions.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to know that they have international support (even that the international community demands it) for making these tough decisions. American officials cannot only pay lip service in electoral campaigns to supporting the two-state solution -- once elected they need to actively pave the way for the circumstances that can lead to the two-state solution, not ones that make it even more difficult to envision.

If presidential candidates are going to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a stance upon which they can the gain votes to be elected to office, then we as the voters, on behalf of the Israeli and Palestinian people, need to control what those stances are. Resolution of this conflict affects us as well -- our national security, our energy, our economy.

Organizations like OneVoice are initiating powerful petitions to deliver to the president or future president that make these connections clear, and urge him to take action. We must demand that the government actively support the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines as the only means to establishing security and peace in the Middle East. We must urge them to leverage America’s leadership role to push Israeli and Palestinian leaders to establish a viable negotiations process that permanently ends the conflict. We must ensure that whoever is elected, President Obama or Mitt Romney, prioritize Middle East peace in their foreign policy and act on their stated commitment to achieve the two-state solution.