Ohio GOP Senate candidates shy away from two-state solution
Former state party chair Jane Timken was the only candidate to endorse a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Five of the six of Ohio’s leading Republican Senate primary candidates refrained from explicitly supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — if not opposing the concept outright — in questionnaires solicited by Jewish Insider.
Out of six candidates who submitted answers to a range of questions, just one, former GOP state party chair Jane Timken, directly endorsed a two-state solution, even as she put forth caveats.
Others, including State Sen. Matt Dolan and Cleveland businessmen Bernie Moreno and Mike Gibbons, suggested favoring the approach in theory but were pessimistic about the possibility or desirability of pursuing negotiations at present. J.D. Vance, the Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist, was largely ambivalent and said he would defer to Israel on the matter.
Former Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel went a step further than his opponents, rejecting the idea entirely — a position that few Republicans have been willing to adopt publicly.
(See Mandel’s responses to Jewish Insider’s candidate questionnaire here.)
The distinct lack of enthusiasm for establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel represents a turn away from a longstanding pillar of American foreign policy in the Middle East that, until recently, had been embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Under former President Donald Trump, however, the GOP largely ignored that goal. Despite resistance from some pro-Israel groups, the party omitted references to a two-state solution in its 2016 platform — which it renewed in 2020 — broadly favoring the “establishment of comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, to be negotiated among those living in the region.”
In a 2019 House vote, a minuscule minority of five Republicans broke with their party and approved a resolution affirming support for a two-state solution. The measure passed 226-188, with most GOP House members voting no.
(See Vance’s responses to Jewish Insider’s candidate questionnaire here.)
Such pushback has also found its way to the Senate. This past July, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) blocked the advancement of legislation promoting normalization between Israel and a number of Arab states — part of an effort to build on the Abraham Accords brokered by the Trump administration — because of language supporting a two-state solution.
The senator has argued that the Israelis and the Palestinians should work out a resolution themselves, without U.S. involvement. “By declaring that it is United States policy to support a two-state deal,” Cruz said after the bill cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June, “we’re going backwards on the promise we made in the last four years.”
The bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators, including Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), whom Ohio’s Republican primary candidates are competing to replace when he retires at the end of his current term.
(See Timken’s responses to Jewish Insider’s candidate questionnaire here.)
But that has hardly registered in a race where most leading candidates are jockeying for Trump’s endorsement, which he has yet to announce. The relatively uniform manner in which the candidates have jettisoned what had been viewed as the accepted orthodoxy on two states is just one demonstration of the manner in which Trump’s influence over party dynamics is dominating the primary.
Even as Timken endorsed a two-state solution “to bring lasting peace to the Middle East,” as she wrote in her questionnaire, using language that appeared to have been borrowed directly from the GOP platform, the Senate hopeful included a number of provisions that could hinder such plans.
For instance, Timken supports, as she put it, Israel’s “right to annex portions of the West Bank” — a goal that former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to abandon as a condition of the Abraham Accords in the summer of 2020.
(See Moreno’s responses to Jewish Insider’s candidate questionnaire here.)
In the survey solicited by JI, Timken praised the accords as “a symbolic fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham and one of President Trump’s greatest accomplishments that should be built upon.”
Moreno, for his part, also used language echoing the Republican Party’s Israel platform plank in his questionnaire. “I will support meaningful efforts to bring a lasting peace to the region,” he wrote, “but I will never pressure Israel to make compromises or concessions that threaten the security of the Jewish State. The core issues separating the Israelis and Palestinians can only be resolved by negotiations between the two parties, not by international organizations.”
But he was skeptical that a resolution would be imminent, arguing that the “the Palestinian Authority has routinely demonstrated an unwillingness to honor the conditions laid out in previous agreements.”
(See Dolan’s responses to Jewish Insider’s candidate questionnaire here.)
Gibbons expressed a similar view. “A two-state solution in a perfect world would be the best solution,” he told JI. “However, given the stance of the Palestinian people and their obsession with the destruction of Israel, it is difficult to imagine a negotiated two-state solution at this time. When Israel decides that the time is right to pursue a two-state negotiation I will support whatever Israel prefers.”
In his response, Dolan was equally adamant that “a two-state solution will remain elusive,” as he put it, “until terrorist groups like Hamas and the more militant and extreme parts of the Palestinian Authority are no longer a threat to peace.”
Adopting a somewhat more bombastic posture, Vance, who referred to the Palestinian people using quotation marks, argued that “details really matter” when it comes to addressing the conflict.
(See Gibbons’s responses to Jewish Insider’s candidate questionnaire here.)
“We can’t give the ‘Palestinians’ a nation if they’re just going to use it to collect foreign aid, which they then spend on training young people to blow themselves up in Israeli (or American) restaurants,” he said. “On this question, I’d defer to Israel and other regional allies. If there’s use in creating another state for the Arabs in the region, and our allies want that to happen, I’m not going to stand in the way. But I don’t like our country using its leverage to bully Israel to do something against its sovereignty.”
Throughout the questionnaire, which touched on such issues as antisemitism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting the Jewish state as well as other foreign policy matters, Vance remained strident in defending his views, despite some points of tension.
In one response, Vance deployed an analogy that appeared to liken Nazi Germany to China while arguing in favor of “an open public square” free from the influence of “large technology companies” and “global corporations.”
“The idea that we would have permitted Hitler’s Germany to own and influence major American newspapers in 1942 is preposterous,” Vance said, “yet we give China more control over our modern discourse in 2021, and they’re arguably more dangerous.”
In a separate answer, Vance expressed support for $1 billion in supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system that passed the House last September. “I would have voted to support funding for Iron Dome,” he told JI. “Iron Dome is essential to ensuring Israel’s defense and helps to keep innocent citizens, children and families safe from outside threat.”
But elsewhere in the questionnaire, Vance argued against increasing U.S. “foreign aid to anyone,” adding, “and I think we ought to cut it to many nations.”
While some, including Gibbons and Timken, favor reducing foreign aid, they both supported continued security assistance for Israel — as did every other candidate in the race who was queried by JI.
Each of the six candidates also expressed support for supplemental Iron Dome funding. Dolan, in his response, said “it is shameful that any Senator, of either party, would use their office to delay or deny this critical funding for one of America’s closest allies” — a possible reference to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who is currently stalling the legislation in the upper chamber.
Mandel was the only candidate who proposed the possibility of increasing the amount of U.S. foreign aid to Israel, which is guaranteed in a 10-year memorandum of understanding between the two countries, though he did not go into specifics. “Maintain or increase for Israel,” he said bluntly. “Eliminate for countries that hate us.”
Like Vance, with whom he has traded barbs on social media, Mandel was provocative throughout his questionnaire, befitting of a candidate who is eagerly presenting himself as the most dedicated Trump acolyte in the race.
Railing against “Sharia law,” “critical race theory” and progressive Democrats he views as antisemitic, Mandel argued for the “need to eradicate radical Islamists and leftist cultural jihadists from our government,” adding: “I will govern with two documents in hand: the Bible and the Constitution.”
His opposition to a two-state solution, however, seems particularly notable, given that Senate Republicans do not appear to have arrived at that position. “The Palestinians are not interested in peace or a two-state solution,” Mandel wrote in his questionnaire. “They are interested in pushing the Jews into the sea.”
“Look no further than how quickly the Palestinians destroyed Gush Katif to understand why not one inch of land should be given to them,” Mandel concluded, referring to the Israeli settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip that was forcibly evacuated by the Israeli army in 2005.
In an interview with JI this past February, Mandel, who is Jewish, did not reveal his opposition to a two-state solution but hinted at the position he put forth in the questionnaire.
“I believe that Jews have the biblical right to live, build and prosper in every corner of Judea, Samaria and the entirety of Israel,” he said, using the biblical name for territory that encompasses the West Bank.
Mandel, in his questionnaire, sounded somewhat more conciliatory while addressing the Abraham Accords, arguing that the Biden administration “not only maintain support” for the agreements but also proactively” engage “with Israel and other countries to expand regional cooperation, including between Israel and the Palestinians.”
“What Israel and the Palestinians could achieve through peace has no bounds,” Mandel added. “Normalization of relations, while maintaining security, is the best path forward for both peoples.”