Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2006, pages 30-32

Congress Watch

Congress Passes Emergency Supplemental Bill With Palestinian Aid Restrictions

By Shirl McArthur

On June 15 Congress finally passed the Conference Report to H.R. 4939, the FY ’06 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill designed to provide more money for the misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq and to help with hurricane recovery. The bill also includes a section saying that none of the funds appropriated in the FY ’06 Foreign Operations (foreign aid) bill or any prior foreign operations appropriations can be provided to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until the secretary of state determines that the PA has complied with the Quartet’s Jan. 30, 2006 statement and is “committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and the acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map.”

The conference report also provides limited presidential waiver authority similar to that in the “improved” S. 2370 (see below). Under terms of the waiver, if the president certifies that it is in the national security interest of the U.S. and that “the president of the PA and his party, and independent agencies and any members thereof, are not members of, appointed by, or effectively controlled by Hamas or any other foreign terrorist organization,” he can provide aid “with respect to the administrative and personal security cost of the Office of the President of the PA, for activities of the president of the PA to promote democracy, peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the rule of law and with respect to independent agencies.”

The section also says that aid can only be provided for West Bank and Gaza programs, usually done through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), after the secretary of state consults with congressional appropriations committees and submits a revised plan for such assistance and reports to the committees that appropriate procedures and safeguards are in place to assure that such assistance is not provided to or through any individual or entity that “advocates, plans, sponsors, engages in, or has engaged in, terrorist activity.”

House Passes Draconian Palestinian Punishment Bill

On May 23 the House passed H.R. 4681, the so-called “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act” (PATA), on a roll-call vote of 361-37, with nine voting “present” (see box below) and 25 not voting. When passed the bill had 296 co-sponsors, including its authors, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Tom Lantos (D-CA). As described in previous issues of this magazine, the bill would prohibit direct assistance to the PA unless the president issues a “certification” that the PA has met a long, unrealistic list of requirements, including several unrelated to Hamas and the election results. In the absence of the presidential certification, it also would limit assistance to NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza, curtail United Nations humanitarian efforts on behalf of the Palestinian people, deny visas to PA officials, prohibit any official U.S. contact with “Palestinian terror organizations,” restrict the travel of PA representatives to the U.N., prohibit a PA or PLO office in the U.S., and try to prevent international financial institutions from helping the PA.

The bill as passed by the House includes some modest improvements inserted in the House International Relations Committee (HIRC). It now includes presidential waiver authority for a PLO office in the U.S. and limited waiver authority on the ban on direct aid to the PA to support independent elections and for issues related to the Middle East peace process. On the other hand, it also includes an amendment inserted in the Judiciary Committee by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) specifically including the Palestinian mission to the U.N. in the clause prohibiting a PA or PLO office in the U.S. (Never mind that this conflicts with U.S. legal obligations as host to the U.N. headquarters.)

The bill’s passage was preceded by spirited debate on the House floor, with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Lois Capps (D-CA), John Dingell (D-MI), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Ray LaHood (R-IL), Betty McCollum (D-MN), David Price (D-NC) and Nick Rahall (D-WV) eloquently pointing out to the deaf ears of their colleagues the obvious problems with the bill. On May 10 Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) spoke against the bill on the House floor, and on May 17 Blumenauer, Capps, LaHood and Price circulated a letter to their colleagues explaining “why we oppose H.R. 4681.”

Previously, on April 27, McCollum inserted a statement for the record explaining why she voted against the bill in the HIRC. (See July 2006 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 18, for the full text of McCollum’s April 10 letter to Howard Kohr, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), expressing her outrage over a phone call from an AIPAC representative in Minnesota saying that her “support for terrorists would not be tolerated.” McCollum banned AIPAC representatives from her office until she receives an apology. As this is written no apology has been made.)

The good news about H.R. 4681 is that it is so draconian in its present form that it is not going to become law.

Attention then shifted to the Senate, where the Jewish publication Forward quoted a senior Senate staff member as saying that Senate leaders view the House bill as “insanely irresponsible.” An improved draft of S. 2370, the Senate’s version of the PATA, began circulating the last week of May. As originally introduced, and as described in the May/June issue of this magazine, S. 2370 was marginally less bad than H.R. 4681 in that it gave the president slightly more flexibility. Its “certification” requirements were similar to those in H.R. 4681, but the prohibition on direct aid to the PA included a very limited presidential waiver provision that would allow limited assistance to the office of the PA president. The limitation on assistance to NGOs allowed exceptions for “basic human needs” (H.R. 4681 says “basic human health needs”) and for assistance to promote democracy, a clause not included in H.R. 4681. It also did not include the section from the House bill attempting to curtail U.N. activities in the West Bank and Gaza.

The sections denying visas to PA officials, restricting travel of PA and PLO representatives to the U.N., and trying to prevent international financial institutions from helping the PA were discretionary rather than mandatory (by use of the word “should” rather than “shall”). It would prohibit a PA representative office in the U.S., but made no mention of a PLO office as had the House bill. This section also includes presidential waiver authority. The bill also prohibited any official U.S. contact with “Palestinian terror organizations,” but included an “exception” not in the House bill for “emergency or humanitarian situations.”

The “improved” Senate draft more clearly focuses on Hamas. If Hamas is not controlling the PA or any part of it, the president can make the required certification and no sanctions will apply. Or, if Hamas is controlling all or part of the PA but has undertaken a still-excessive list of reforms, he can issue the certification. In addition, the waiver on the ban on direct aid to the PA has been broadened to include assistance for the administrative and personal security costs of the PA president “to fulfill his or her duties as president, including to maintain control of the management and security of border crossings, to foster the Middle East peace process, and to promote democracy and the rule of law,” and for “assistance for the judiciary branch of the PA and other entities.”

The waiver on the ban on aid to programs in the West Bank and Gaza also has been broadened to include an exception for aid to non-Hamas members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) to facilitate “their attendance...in programs for the development of institutions of democratic governance, including enhancing the transparent and accountable operations of such institutions and providing support for the Middle East peace process.”

There also is an exception for other types of assistance if the president certifies that it will further the national security interests of the U.S. The visa restrictions are focused on Hamas, applying to “an alien who is an official of, under the control of, or serving as a representative of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.” There is an exception as well to exempt from the visa ban the PA president, his personal representatives and members of the PLC, so long as they are not affiliated with Hamas or another foreign terrorist organization.

The full Senate passed the “improved” version of S. 2370 by voice vote on June 23. It is not clear what will happen next with H.R. 4681 and S. 2370. Normally, the Senate would insert the text of S. 2370 into H.R. 4681 and request a conference to reconcile the two. Since the two bills are so different, however, the conference committee may be unable to reach agreement in the time remaining in the 109th Congress, and the bills would die. On the other hand, since the Emergency Supplemental bill as passed includes a restriction on aid to the PA for FY ’06 and previous foreign aid appropriations, the Senate may do nothing with H.R. 4681 and simply insert some elements of S. 2370 into the FY ’07 foreign aid appropriations bill, especially since Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who originated S. 2370, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Operations subcommittee—and fifth highest senator in career contributions from pro-Israel PACs.

Kirk Launches Another Attack on UNRWA

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has long been a target of congressional Israel-firsters because of its efforts to help the Palestinian people and its criticisms of Israeli actions—and curtailing UNRWA’s activities is one of the elements of H.R. 4681. In March Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who led this magazine’s list of recipients of pro-Israel PAC contributions (see May/June 2006 Washington Report, p. 31), told the thundering horde at AIPAC’s annual convention that he intended to introduce a bill aimed at “shutting down UNRWA.” Following Hamas’ election victory, however, Israel reconsidered its long-standing objection to UNRWA on the grounds that it would be better to work with the U.N. agency than with a Hamas-controlled PA, and even suggested that the agency expand its mandate in the occupied territories.

Kirk’s bill therefore appeared dead before it was born. But on May 3 he, along with 15 of the usual suspects, introduced H.R. 5278, the “UNRWA Integrity Act.” It would suspend U.S. contributions to the agency until the president certifies that it is not an impediment to a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, is subject to independent financial audits, does not provide assistance to members of foreign terrorist organizations, and does not promote anti-Semitism or denial of Israel’s right to exist. Later, during the Appropriations Committee’s markup of the FY ’07 Foreign Operations bill, Kirk offered an amendment to require an outside audit of UNRWA. Foreign Operations subcommittee chairman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) strongly objected, saying it would contradict an agreement among all U.N. members that unilateral audits are not permitted. Kirk’s amendment was defeated.

House Passes “Iran Freedom Support” Bill

With all the high-level attention being given to Iran by the governments of the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, Congress has been relatively, and uncharacteristically, quiet regarding Iran. However, on April 26 Ros-Lehtinen finally managed to get H.R. 282, the “Iran Freedom Support” bill, passed by the full House on a roll-call vote of 397-21. When passed, the bill had 361 co-sponsors, including Ros-Lehtinen, seven more than previously reported. New co-sponsors are Reps. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), Tom Davis (R-VA), Buck McKeon (R-CA), Gary Miller (R-CA), Edolphus Towns (D-NY), Diane Watson (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK).

There has been no action on the companion bill in the Senate, S. 333, but it has gained 12 co-sponsors, for a total of 62. New co-sponsors are Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Max Baucus (D-MT), Robert Bennett (R-UT), Kit Bond (R-MO), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Harry Reid (D-NV), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Ted Stevens (R-AK) and George Voinovich (R-OH).

Four new Iran measures were introduced. S. 2657, introduced on April 26 by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), would simply extend the “Iran and Libya Sanctions Act” (ILSA) of 1996, which is due to expire this year, for an additional five years with respect to Iran. A truly petty resolution, S.Res. 436, was introduced on April 6 by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). It would urge the International Football Association (FIFA) to prevent “persons or groups” representing Iran from participating in sanctioned soccer matches.

More seriously, on April 26 Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced H.Con.Res. 391, “expressing the sense of Congress that the president should not initiate military action against Iran with respect to its nuclear program without first obtaining authorization from Congress.” The resolution has 35 co-sponsors. Along the same line, Ron Paul (R-TX) on April 5 and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) on May 23 spoke on the floor of the House against military action against Iran. On June 8 Kirk, with Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ), introduced H.Con.Res. 525, “expressing the sense of Congress that the crisis regarding Iran’s nuclear program should be resolved primarily through diplomatic means.”

Ros-Lehtinen Introduces Two New Pro-Israel Resolutions

In her never-ending effort to serve Israel’s interest, Ros-Lehtinen introduced H.Con.
Res. 412 on May 22 and H.Res. 848 on May 25. With the innocuous title “commemorating the 39th anniversary of the city of Jerusalem,” H.Con.Res. 412 goes on to urge the president and secretary of state “to affirm as a matter of U.S. policy that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel” and urges “the president to begin the process of relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.” The companion measure in the Senate, H.Con.Res. 98, was introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and 12 co-sponsors on June 8. H.Res. 848 and its Senate companion, S.Res. 494, introduced on May 25 by Santorum, concerns “the creation of refugee populations in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf as a result of human rights violations.” The “whereas” clauses make clear that those human rights violations were all by Arab and Muslim countries, and the resolution’s focus is on making sure that Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries get the same importance as Palestinian refugees.

Resolution Condemning Saudi Arabia Also Passes

On March 29 Rep. Clay Shaw (R-FL) introduced H.Con.Res. 370, “expressing the sense of Congress that Saudi Arabia should fully live up to its World Trade Organization commitments and end all aspects of any boycott on Israel.” The measure was brought to the House floor under “suspension of the rules” and passed by voice vote on April 5. 

Shirl McArthur is a retired U.S. foreign service officer living in the Washington, DC area.


Just Saying No to AIPAC

The 37 House members who voted against H.R. 4681 were Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), Xavier Becera (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Lois Capps (D-CA), Michael Capuano (D-MA), John Con­yers (D-MI), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), John Dingell (D-MI), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Walter Jones (R-NC), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI), Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Ray LaHood (R-IL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim Marshall (D-GA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), George Miller (D-CA), Jim Moran (D-VA), David Obey (D-WI), Ron Paul (R-TX), David Price (D-NC), Nick Rahall (D-WV), Pete Stark (D-CA), William Thornberry (R-TX), Nydia Velaquez (D-NY) and Melvin Watt (D-NC). The nine voting “present” were Reps. Julia Carson (D-IN), William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Danny Davis (D-IL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Jesse Jackson (D-IL), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Diane Watson (D-CA).—S.M.

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