Graham won’t back off Mideast ‘two-state solution’ despite Israeli pressure

If Israeli officials are hoping their ally, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, will back off plans to introduce a resolution expressing support for a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are going to be disappointed.

The South Carolina Republican told McClatchy in an interview this week that he has no plans to abandon his long-held position.

“I just can’t envision how you can solve this with a one-state solution,” said Graham, chairman of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee which controls federal foreign aid, who has traveled extensively to the region over the years.

Graham and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, are expected to soon introduce a symbolic resolution expressing Congress’s support for “two states for two peoples” — a state of Israel and a state of Palestine.

Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, has been in touch with Graham and Van Hollen to request they exclude direct use of the term “two-state solution” in the measure, according to two sources familiar with the conversations. Israeli officials declined to confirm or deny reports of talks.

Graham and Van Hollen are working on the measure at a precarious moment in Middle East peace talks. At the end of the month, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is scheduled to appear at a summit in Bahrain to unveil a portion of his long-awaited plan to bring stability to the region.

Bridgett Frey, a spokeswoman for Van Hollen, said in a statement that “both Senators … are long-time supporters of a two-state solution and are working on the best way to advance that commitment in Congress.”

Graham told McClatchy that he and Van Hollen were talking to “everybody” as they draft their resolution.

“We’re gonna talk to the Israelis and the Jordanians and see where everything fits in,” said Graham.

“I don’t want to get in the way of Jared,” Graham continued, “but I can’t envision a one-state solution. 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 Isralies. 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.”

However, Graham insisted he had not heard from any officials expressing displeasure about the possibility the resolution might endorse the two-state solution, or that he and Van Hollen had been encouraged to scrap the measure: “That would be news to me.”

And he made it clear if someone did reach out to him, he wasn’t going to change his position.

“I’d be very interested to see somebody advocate for a one-state solution,” he said. “I’d like to see what that would look like.”

Republicans have supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, ever since the days of President Ronald Reagan. Trump has said that he, too, “likes two states,” and has hinted that his administration’s Middle East peace plan would require significant concessions of the Israelis as well as the Palestinians.

Yet Trump has also hedged his support for two states — “if the Israelis and Palestinians want one state, that’s okay with me,” he has said.

Meanwhile, the administration has systematically removed all references to the two-state solution and to the “occupied West Bank” from interagency and State Department material, including its annual reports on human rights and international religious freedom.

Trump’s Middle East peace team — led by Kushner, and including his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman — says it avoids use of the term “two-state solution” because it “means different things to different people.”

This posturing has put members of both parties on edge.

Democratic members of Congress and 2020 presidential candidates are increasingly fearful that the two-state solution is on life support— prompted, they say, by a political lurch in Israel to the right and the continued growth of a voting Jewish settler population in the West Bank.

Republican lawmakers have also expressed reservations about the possibility the Trump administration might be abandoning its long-held support for a two-state solution.

“I don’t know what the alternative is,” U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said upon his return from a trip to Israel in May.

Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.
Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.