Top US congressman: Time to think beyond two-state solution

Some basic assumptions that have governed Middle East diplomacy over the last quarter century — such as the need for a Palestinian state in the West Bank — are being questioned by more and more people in Congress, the chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee told The Jerusalem Post.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who left Israel on Saturday night after a week here as part of a delegation of five congressmen and one senator brought by the US Israel Education Association, said: “There is a sense in Congress that it is maybe time to look a little broader outside the box” at other possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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The USIEA is Christian-based organization that defines as one of its goals sponsoring educational tours to Israel with congressmen. What make it unique, is that it takes the delegations to the settlements – something the organization’s website says is not allowed when the congressmen go on official US-sponsored visits.

The delegation spent much of a day in Ariel, and also toured Hebron. In addition, the group met on Tuesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“My view is that some of the assumptions that we have all operated under for a long time – that there has to be a two-state solution, a Palestinian state on the West Bank – some of those assumptions are now being questioned,” said Thornberry.

He does not see a clear consensus around one solution, but said there is a greater sense among his congressional colleagues that “you can’t do the same thing over and over again” and hope for a different result.

This new way of looking at the situation, Thornberry said, was due to a number of factors, including a new administration in Washington that has not come out unequivocally in favor of a two-state solution, and also that “people look at Gaza as a negative example of what can happen.”

James Lankford, a Republican senator from Oklahoma and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who also made the trip, said the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue will not happen as a result of a week-long summit somewhere, but will take a “longer-term generational shift.

“I don’t anticipate that there is any set of issues where the table is set for some grand agreement because, even if the political leaders make an agreement, that does not mean that the people on the street will agree to all those things,” he said.

Lankford believes it is now the “season” to move specific projects and make progress “one bite at a time, rather than with one big agreement.”

Another member of the delegation, Steve Russell, a Republican congressman, also from Oklahoma, is a highly decorated 21-year veteran of the US Army who served in Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, where his unit played a central role in the hunt and capture of Saddam Hussein.

Russell said one thing he has learned from his experience is that “you have really three options when two groups don’t get along. You have accommodation, which is the ultimate goal; you have assimilation, where the stronger side forces the hand of the weaker, and then they accept it; and you have elimination, when neither side want to agree and are determined to eliminate the other.”

Russell, who characterized those three options as “the path of history,” said: “From my perspective as a historian and a soldier, you have Israel, which is willing to do the first two stages – accommodation and assimilation – but have never looked at the third category as a solution.

By contrast, he said, for “the other side, the first and only option is elimination.”