Council on Foreign Relations: The Democratic Candidates on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

CFR invited the Democratic candidates to articulate their positions on twelve critical foreign policy issues before the second set of presidential debates. The questionnaire was sent to all candidates on July 8, 2019. Candidates’ answers are posted exactly as they were received. View all questions here.

Question:

Do you support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, if so, how would you go about trying to achieve it?

Joe BidenFormer Vice President of the United States

I believe a two-state solution is the only path to long-term security for Israel, while sustaining its identity as a Jewish and democratic state. It is also the only way to ensure Palestinian dignity and their legitimate interest in national self-determination. And it is a necessary condition to take full advantage of the opening that exists for greater cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

At present, neither the Israeli nor Palestinian leadership seems willing to take the political risks necessary to make progress through direct negotiations. This challenge has been made even more difficult by President Trump’s unilateralism, his moves to cut off assistance to the Palestinians, and his equivocation on the importance of a two-state solution.

I will restore credible engagement with both sides to the conflict. America must sustain its ironclad commitment to Israel’s security – including the unprecedented support provided by the Obama-Biden administration. It is also essential to resume assistance to the Palestinian Authority that supports Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, people-to-people programs, economic development, and humanitarian aid and health care for the Palestinian people.

My administration will urge both sides to take steps to keep the prospect of a two-state outcome alive. Palestinian leaders should end the incitement and glorification of violence, and they must begin to level with their people about the legitimacy and permanence of Israel as a Jewish state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Israeli leaders should stop the expansion of West Bank settlements and talk of annexation that would make two states impossible to achieve. They must recognize the legitimacy of Palestinians’ aspirations for statehood. Both sides should work to provide more relief to the people of Gaza while working to weaken, and ultimately replace, Hamas. And Arab states should take more steps toward normalization with Israel and increase their financial and diplomatic support for building Palestinian institutions.

Read all of Joe Biden’s responses.

Cory BookerSenator, New Jersey

I support a two-state solution because I believe in justice and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestineans. As President of the United States, I will be committed to finding a two-state solution to the conflict so that both Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace with dignity and security.

Read all of Cory Booker’s responses.

Steve BullockGovernor of Montana

I support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict which would provide Israel with security and the Palestinian people with a better future. Under the Trump Administration, efforts to reach a two-state solution have reached a standstill as the U.S. negotiating team does not have credibility with both parties. I would use the fresh start of a new Administration to reinvigorate efforts to get Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table and consult closely with regional partners whose support would be necessary to implement a final status agreement.

Read all of Steve Bullock’s responses.

Pete ButtigiegMayor of South Bend, Indiana

Yes, I do support a two-state solution. The US alliance with Israel and support for Israel’s security have long been fundamental tenets of US national security policy, and they will remain so if I am elected President. But this is not a zero-sum game. The security of Israel and the aspirations of the Palestinian people are fundamentally interlinked. To visit the West Bank and Gaza is to understand the fundamental need for a two-state solution which addresses the economic, security and moral rights of both Israelis and of the Palestinians who live there.

I have clearly and strongly stated my support for the security of Israel, and I have also said that I disagree with policies being carried out by the current Israeli administration. This includes overreach in the West Bank and Gaza and short-sighted focus on military responses. The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza has gone on far too long and provides a ripe environment for the very extremist violence that threatens Israel.

The United States needs to put its arm around the shoulder of its ally, Israel, and help it to develop policies that will work towards the economic and security benefit of both Israel and the Palestinians. Both Israeli and Palestinian citizens should be able to enjoy the freedom to go about their daily lives without fear of rocket attacks or other violence, and to work to achieve economic well-being for their families. A two-state solution that achieves legitimate Palestinian aspirations and meets Israel’s security needs remains the only viable way forward.

Read all of Pete Buttigieg’s responses.

John DelaneyFormer Representative, Maryland

I do support a two-state solution but do not think it should be the position of the U.S. to predetermine what that agreement looks like. The only way that lasting peace can be achieved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is if there are direct, bilateral negotiations between the two parties. The U.S. president can and should be a facilitator and mediator in helping parties come to an agreement, which we have seen done successfully in the past. To help achieve a successful agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, the U.S. can work with regional partners including Egypt and Jordan to provide stability in the conflict. This includes providing Israel – one of our most important and enduring allies – with the necessary resources to defend themselves while also providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinian population to promote human development and humanitarian services such as education and medical services in ways that reach the people directly.

Read all of John Delaney’s responses.

Kamala HarrisSenator, California

Israel is a critical ally and friend and its security is a top priority.  I absolutely support a two-state solution because it is the best way to ensure the existence of a Jewish, democratic, and secure Israel. Palestinians should be able to govern themselves in their own state, in peace and dignity, just as Israelis deserve a secure homeland for the Jewish people.

While all Americans have an interest in a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the fact remains that peace can only be achieved if the parties themselves come to an agreement. The U.S. can – and should – serve as a constructive partner in the process. Unfortunately, while, in the past, the U.S. has been viewed as an honest broker with a strong desire for peace in the region, Trump’s actions have inflamed tensions in the region, diminished U.S. credibility and influence, and undermined the prospects for peace. As President, I would start by reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity, while simultaneously working to rebuild the broken relationship between the United States and the Palestinians. Among all of our international partners, the U.S. is uniquely positioned to facilitate negotiations toward peace, but for that to have any chance of success, we have to start by re-engaging in honest, respectful dialog with both sides.

Read all of Kamala Harris’s responses.

Beto O’RourkeFormer Representative, Texas

A two-state solution that realizes the aspirations of the Palestinian people and addresses Israel’s legitimate security concerns is the only way to guarantee peace and the human rights and dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians. Our strong relationship with Israel is key to achieving that outcome, and as President, I will support and sustain it.

Leaders on both sides continue to take steps that make negotiating a two-state solution more difficult, including Netanyahu’s embrace of the far-right in Israel and Abbas’ ineffectual leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Ultimately, peace will require bold and principled leadership from both parties. But the United States also has an indispensable role to play. Far from fulfilling that role, President Trump’s reckless and inflammatory actions have added fuel to the fire. As President, I will leverage the unique position of the United States in the region to cultivate a foundation on which negotiations can take place. That will include holding both sides accountable for unjustified acts of violence, whether it be rocket attacks from Gaza, or disproportionate use of force from Israel. Palestinians and Israelis have the right—and deserve the opportunity—to live lives free from violence and depredation. In my administration, I will prioritize rebuilding the foundation for the best way to achieve that outcome: a two-state solution.

Read all of Beto O’Rourke responses.

Tim RyanRepresentative, Ohio

Yes. There is no moral solution to this dispute that does not involve sovereign territory for both peoples.

First, we must build trust between the parties and that starts with recognition that Israel’s right to exist must be conceded by the Palestinians. The Israelis must then address numerous aspects of its security which have made it harder for Palestinian families to have an upwardly mobile economy. Once trust begins to be rebuilt, then and ONLY then can both sides begin the process of talking.

The current administration’s blatantly one-sided policy has pushed away the Palestinian’s and hardened Israel’s resolve to take a tough stand. One of my first priorities would be to regain the trust of the Palestinians and work to bring them back into the peace process.

Read all of Tim Ryan’s responses.

Bernie SandersSenator, Vermont

Yes, the parameters of that solution are well known. They are based in international law, in multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions, and are supported by an overwhelming international consensus: Two states based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. Ultimately, it’s up to the Palestinians and Israelis themselves to make the choices necessary for a final agreement, but the United States has a major role to play in brokering that agreement. My administration would also be willing to bring real pressure to bear on both sides, including conditioning military aid, to create consequences for moves that undermine the chances for peace.

Read all of Bernie Sanders’s responses.

Joe SestakFormer Representative, Pennsylvania

I support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are no easy solutions to this decades-long conflict, but we must begin by affirmatively re-engaging in the region. We must maintain our steadfast allied support of Israel, but we must also work much harder to be an honest broker and deal fairly with the Palestinians as we lead the brokerage of peace between them. While Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East — and I have worked hard with and on behalf of Israel for decades, both during my time in the Navy and as a Congressman — we must also work to ensure the Palestinian people know that we are committed to a just solution to the conflict. This means returning our embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, because it has always been accepted that this would be part of a two state solution, not a unilateral decision.  It also means restoring humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. But at the same time we must deal with the bias against Israel in key United Nations organizations and make clear that our support for Israel as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people is sacrosanct. While Israel may be safe today, it will not be permanently secure without a peace agreement that includes a two state solution, and that is only possible if outcomes are not decided unilaterally beforehand. Otherwise, the cycle of violence will only continue. The United States is the one indispensable nation that can work with both sides to reach a just peace deal., and only the full weight of the Presidency will be able to bring it about. Our own interests demand it as challenges elsewhere increase – but we must secure Israel’s permanent security to do so, and can only do that with a fair, honestly brokered process.

Read all of Joe Sestak’s responses.

Marianne WilliamsonAuthor

Yes.

The United States should have an equal and simultaneous support for both the legitimate security concerns of Israel, and the human rights, dignity and economic opportunities of the Palestinian people.

I will be a president who listens deeply to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Leaders of the Palestinian Authority will know that I hear them and understand their plight, yet nothing is going to sway me from my commitment to the legitimate security of Israel. Israeli leaders will know that I hear them and understand their plight, yet nothing is going to sway me from my commitment to the human rights, dignity and economic hopes of the Palestinian people.

I do not believe the settlements on the West Bank are legal. Also, I would rescind the president’s affirmation of sovereignty of Israel over the Golan Heights. I understand the occupation of the Golan Heights, but only until there is a stable government in Syria with whom one can negotiate.

According to international law, the occupation of a territory does not give the occupying country a right to annex it. Also, according to international law, the resources of the occupied territory are to be used for the good of those living there.

I also do not support the blockade of Gaza.

I will use pressure afforded me as president of the United States to exert pressure on Israel to restart talks on a two-state solution.

Read all of Marianne Williamson’s responses.

Andrew YangEntrepreneur

The only acceptable end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involves a two-state solution that allows both the Israeli and Palestinian people to have sovereign land and self-determination.

Israel has been an important ally to the US, and it will continue to be an important ally. It is a democracy in a region where that is rare. I disagree with some of the policies of the current Israeli administration, but I believe the relationship is fundamentally strong and will continue to be.

I don’t want to prescribe the specifics of a two-state solution, as the Israeli and Palestinian people both need to be leading any conversation, and I look forward to engaging with all stakeholders to come up with confidence-building measures, such as a ceasefire and an end to the expansion of settlements, as we look towards building a sustainable peace. Coming together to provide aid to those suffering in Gaza can also be an opportunity for all parties to work together to handle a humanitarian crisis that is causing untold suffering.

The US should also restore our USAID programs for Palestinians that have been ended by this administration.

Read all of Andrew Yang’s responses.

Withdrawn

Kirsten GillibrandSenator, New York, Withdrawn

Yes. In my trips to Israel and through conversations with U.S. experts and Israeli leaders, I have learned that Israel’s security and the prosperity of both Israelis and Palestinians is best achieved through a peace based on two nations living side by side. But that lasting peace and security can only be achieved by those on the ground, and the U.S. must remain engaged, but balanced, in order to foster direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The Trump administration has dangerously undermined U.S. ability to foster such negotiations. As president, I would seek to restore it by continuing America’s strong relationship with our ally, Israel, ensuring its meaningful military edge allows Israel to defend its people, while at the same time reversing the Trump administration’s damaging policies toward the Palestinians. This means reopening the diplomatic mission to the Palestinians, restoring our USAID presence in the West Bank and restarting USAID programs that President Trump has cut.

Read all of Kirsten Gillibrand’s responses.

Seth MoultonRepresentative, Massachusetts, Withdrawn

Yes, I unequivocally support a two-state solution. Israelis deserve to live in peace and security, and the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own.

Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East and will continue to be. But we cannot continue to support their current right-wing government’s policies that have made a two-state solution virtually impossible. There’s certainly a lot of blame to go around in this conflict, but the Israelis have failed to live up to the standards we demand from our allies, and that needs to change.