U.S. House Opposes Israeli Annexation of West Bank in Landmark Resolution

The resolution, which passed 226-188, emphasizes need for two-state solution, opposition of steps to hinder peace 'including unilateral annexation of territory'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the press conference in which he unveiled his plan to annex the jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea region, September 10, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives passed on Friday a resolution opposing Israeli annexation of the West Bank. This is the first time such a resolution has passed in U.S. Congress, and while it is not legally binding, it displays growing opposition among the Democratic Party to the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition.

House Resolution 326 states that any U.S. proposal to solve Israeli-Palestinian conflict should endorse a two-state solution, and "discourage steps by either side that would put a peaceful end to the conflict further out of reach, including unilateral annexation of territory." It similarly opposes Palestinian efforts to attain statehood that do not involve negotiations with Israel.

The resolution was sponsored by California Democrat Alan Lowenthal and introduced to the House in April to express "sense of the House of Representatives that only a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can ensure Israel's survival as a secure Jewish and democratic state and fulfill the legitimate aspirations for a Palestinian state," the resolution's text reads. It also reaffirms continued U.S. military aid to Israel.

The resolution was supported by 226 lawmakers and opposed by 188. While its supporters were largely Democrats, four from the party ranks voted against the measure, and five Republicans voted in favor.

The four Democrats who voted against the resolution were Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Occasion-Cortez and Ayanna Presley. This group of lawmakers, commonly referred to as “the squad,” have a history on more critical stances toward Israel. Tlaib voted against the resolution due to her opposition to the two-state solution. The other three opposed the decision to omit the word “occupation” from the resolution’s final version.  

The resolution passed days after Netanyahu told Israeli reporters that he discussed unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom he met earlier this week in Portugal.

Netanyahu has hinted several times in recent months that the Trump administration would support his September campaign promise of unilaterally annexing the Jordan Valley. The administration has not confirmed or denied those claims. Two weeks ago, the administration reversed the prevailing U.S. policy on settlements in the Palestinian territories by announcing that it no longer considers them illegal under international law.

The Congressional resolution cannot legally stop the administration from supporting Israeli annexation. It does, however, show growing discontent among the Democratic Party and its supporters with the Israeli government and its policies. The Democrats' support for the bill shows that any move towards extending Israel's sovereignty in the West Bank could further hurt the country's standing among its supporters.  

Aaron Keyak, a political consultant and former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, told Haaretz following the vote: “It's just astonishing that more than 180 House Republicans joined with Reps. Omar and Tlaib in voting against a resolution that supports vital military assistance to Israel and the two-state solution."

He added, "The only thing worse than today’s display of shameless Republican hypocrisy is that they’re actually undermining Israel’s national security interests and the bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel partnership.”

Groups that support the two-state solution applauded the resolution's passage.

"This resolution serves as an unmistakable statement from the House of Representatives in support of a Jewish, democratic and secure Israel, and is the first Congressional measure to specifically point to West Bank annexation as a danger to that vision," the Israel Policy Forum said, urging the U.S. Senate to join the House in the initiative, especially "In the current political environment where dangerous West Bank annexation initiatives are being routinely proposed."

J Street also welcomed the passage of the resolution: "Coming at the end of a week in which President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly discussed potential Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, this vote sends a clear message that Congress strongly opposes such efforts to undermine the prospects for a two-state solution."