A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
January/February 2012, Pages 21-22
Israel's Members of Congress Continue to React to Palestinians' U.N. Bid
By Shirl McArthur
Although none of the previously described, ill-considered congressional measures responding to the Palestinians' bid to gain expanded U.N. recognition have made any further progress, one new bill, S. 1860, was introduced on Nov. 14 by Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN). It would "clarify prohibitions for any U.N. entity that admits Palestine as a member state." In addition, following the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) Oct. 31 vote to admit the PLO as a full member, Israel's members of Congress continued to seek to punish the Palestinians for their efforts by, especially, threatening to cut off all aid to the Palestinians. (Note that UNESCO granted the PLO, not the Palestinian Authority, full membership status. Similarly, it is the PLO that has observer status in the U.N. General Assembly.)
Prior to UNESCO's vote, several congressional letters were sent opposing the action. On Oct. 5 Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) wrote to UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova urging that she cancel the vote. Similarly, Rep. Steven Rothman (D-NJ), joined by all the members of the House foreign aid appropriations subcommittee except Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), wrote to Bokova saying that "any recognition of Palestine as a Member State would…endanger future financial contributions to UNESCO by the U.S." And on Oct. 28 Reps. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Tom Cole (R-OK), joined by four others, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauding "the administration's efforts to block full membership of the PA in UNESCO." Interestingly, the letter makes the case againstwithholding U.S. funds to UNESCO by citing UNESCO's "many projects that the U.S. believes strongly in," but ends by urging Clinton to "hold firm against" the Palestinians' request.
Indeed, UNESCO's vote triggered provisions in laws passed in 1990 and 1994 prohibiting U.S. contributions to it. According to the 1990 law, PL 101-246, no funds "shall be available for the U.N. or any specialized agency thereof which accords the PLO the same standing as member states." The 1994 law, PL 103-236, bars U.S. contributions "to any affiliated organization of the U.N. which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood." Neither provision includes presidential waiver authority. Having no choice, Clinton announced that the U.S. was withholding the $60 million payment to UNESCO scheduled for this fall.
There is nothing to stop Congress from amending the earlier laws prohibiting payments to the U.N., however, and on Nov. 14 the State Department sent a long memo to key members of Congress urging that this be done. But that won't happen, given the approaching election year and many members' reliance on donations from pro-Israel PACs and individuals.
Resistance to Cutting Aid to the Palestinians—Including From Israel?
Momentum is building in Congress to cut off all aid to the Palestinians. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that Congress is poised to cut aid to the PA, although "I don't think that's in our near-term or long-term interest, but that's what's going to happen." Previously, Congress's most reliable Israel-firster, House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), was blocking about $200 million of the $400 million allocated in the FY '11 continuing appropriations bill. But after receiving extensive documentation from the State Department, Ros-Lehtinen on Sept. 2 released $50 million for the Palestinian Security Forces, and in late October released the $148 million for law enforcement assistance. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) said that he and others were planning to add Palestine-related amendments to the foreign aid portion of the "minibus" (consolidating FY '12 appropriations for agriculture and water, foreign affairs and financial services) when it comes to the Senate floor.
However, some resistance is building against cutting PA aid. The State Department is arguing strongly against cutting the aid. "If we are no longer their partner, who will fill the void?" asked Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro. And on Nov. 7, 44 House Democrats, led by Reps. David Price (D-NC) and Peter Welch (D-VT), signed a letter to the chair and ranking Republican of the House foreign aid appropriations subcommittee saying that maintaining aid to the PA is "in the essential strategic interest of Israel and the U.S., independent of current policy disagreements," and urging them "to ensure that essential U.S. assistance to the PA is maintained." Perhaps more telling, there are some reports that the Israeli government has been lobbying lawmakers to continue aid to the PA, fearing that if the PA collapses, Hamas will replace it.
"Palestinian Accountability," Jerusalem Bills Make Little Progress, Supreme Court Hears Jerusalem Case
The other anti-Palestinian measures described in previous issues have made little progress. H.R. 2457, the "Palestinian Accountability Act," introduced in July by Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), has gained two co-sponsors, and now has 41, all Republicans. Its stated purpose is "to restrict funds for the Palestinian Authority." Unless certain unlikely conditions are met, it would prohibit U.S. government documents from referring to areas controlled by the PA as Palestine; would prohibit U.S. funds to the PA; would prohibit U.S. funds to the U.N. or any U.N. entity if it declares or recognizes statehood for the Palestinian territories; and would bar U.S. funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which aids Palestinian refugees, unless it meets similar conditions to those imposed on the Palestinians.
However, the AIPAC-promoted, previously described H.R. 1006, introduced in March by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), which would, among other things, recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, has made no progress and still has 51co-sponsors, including Burton.
On Nov. 7 the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Zivotofsky v. Clinton, in which Menachem Zivotofsky's parents are suing to overturn the State Department's ruling that U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem cannot have their passports list Israel as the place of birth. At issue is a provision in a larger 2002 law which says that American citizens born in Israel may list Israel as place of birth in their passports. However, in a signing statement, President George W. Bush essentially said that he would ignore the provision as an infringement of the president's constitutional power to conduct foreign affairs. This view was subsequently echoed by President Barack Obama. Depending on how the Supreme Court rules, the case may settle the question of to what extent Congress can impose its will on the executive branch in foreign policy matters.
Meanwhile, AIPAC's Web site reported on Nov. 11 that Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Gary Ackerman (D-NY), joined by 34 other representatives, wrote to Clinton and FBI Director Robert Mueller urging them to update "all relevant terrorist databases" by adding the names of the Palestinian prisoners released in the deal to release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
HFAC Marks up and Amends Iran, Syria Sanctions Bills
On Nov. 2 Ros-Lehtinen's House Foreign Affairs Committee marked up, amended and passed H.R. 1905, introduced in May by Ros-Lehtinen, titled the "Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011," and H.R. 2105, introduced by Ros-Lehtinen in June, titled the "Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation and Reform And Modernization Act of 2011." For each Ros-Lehtinen introduced a new text further strengthening the bills. Of the two, H.R. 1905 does the most damage to U.S. national interests. One of the new provisions says that "no person employed with the U.S. government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that (1) is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the government of Iran; and (2) presents a threat to the U.S. or is affiliated with a terrorist organization." If allowed to become law, this provision effectively would prohibit diplomacy with Iran and set a precedent that the Congress could dictate to whom the executive branch may talk. It will not, of course, pass the House and the Senate and be signed by the president.
Another problematic amendment, offered by Ros-Lehtinen and Berman and approved by the full committee, would require unilateral sanctions on Iran's central bank, with no presidential waiver authority. (Kirk has said he plans to introduce a similar amendment to the minibus on the Senate floor.) There is serious concern within the Obama administration over this provision, because it could seriously impact foreign banks doing legitimate business with Iran and have an impact on world oil markets. Furthermore, since a central bank is considered a sovereign entity of a state, this could be considered an act of war (which might be just fine with the likes of Ros-Lehtinen, Berman and Kirk). As with other outrageous Ros-Lehtinen initiatives, this has little chance of becoming law.
Then, on Nov. 16, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and one co-sponsor introduced a bill that would avoid directly sanctioning Iran's Central Bank. H.R. 3439 instead would "require the president to impose sanctions on foreign financial institutions that conduct transactions with the Central Bank of Iran if the president determines that [it] has engaged in certain transactions relating to the proliferation of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons or support for acts of international terrorism." While it includes a 180-day grace period for oil-related transactions, it still could impact world oil markets.
Added to H.R. 2105 is a new provision excluding from the U.S. persons "who have aided proliferation relating to Iran."
With AIPAC's strong backing, H.R. 1905 has gained 55 co-sponsors and now has 353, including Ros-Lehtinen. H.R. 2105 has gained four co-sponsors and now has 10, including Ros-Lehtinen. Its Senate counterpart, S. 1048, introduced in May by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), has gained 6 co-sponsors and now has 81, including Menendez.
Of the other previously-reported Syria-related bills, only H.R. 2106, also introduced by Ros-Lehtinen in June, and S. 1472, introduced in August by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), have gained support. The former would "strengthen sanctions against the government of Syria, enhance multilateral commitment to address the government of Syria's threatening policies, and establish a program to support a transition to a democratic government in Syria." It has gained 1 co-sponsor and now has 36, including Ros-Lehtinen. S. 1472 would direct the president to impose a wide range of sanctions aimed at Syria's petroleum sector. It has gained 2 co-sponsors and now has 13, including Gillibrand.
Also, on Oct. 25, four senators, led by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), wrote to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice expressing concern over the continuing violence in Syria and commending her efforts "to encourage the Security Council to condemn the Syrian actions."
U.N. Reform Bills Gain Support
The "UN Transparency, Accountability, and Reform" bill, H.R. 2829, introduced by Ros-Lehtinen in August, which would condition U.S. funding of the U.N on its treatment of Israel and the Palestinians, has gained support. Among its many harsh measures are ones that would "withhold U.S. contributions from any U.N. agency or program that upgrades the status of the PLO Palestinian observer mission"; withhold funding for UNRWA; call for the U.S. to lead a high-level U.N. effort for "the revocation and repudiation of the Goldstone Report;" shift U.S. contributions to the U.N. to a voluntary basis; and halt new U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions until reforms are implemented. It has gained 29 co-sponsors and now has 142, including Ros-Lehtinen.
Its Senate companion bill, S. 1848, was introduced on Nov. 10 by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) with three co-sponsors.
Some Congressional Resistance to Arms Sales to Bahrain and Turkey
On Sept. 14 the State Department notified Congress of its intention to sell some $53 million worth of military equipment to Bahrain. This prompted objections from some members of Congress and non-governmental organizations because of Bahrain's alleged human rights violations during protest demonstrations. On Oct. 12 five senators, led by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), wrote to Clinton urging "the administration to delay its proposed arms sale to Bahrain in light of the country's ongoing repression of peaceful demonstrations." The government of Bahrain has established the "Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry" to look into allegations of abuse, and on Oct. 14 the State Department replied to Casey saying that the sale would be put on hold pending evaluation of the commission's report, scheduled for Nov. 23, and the Bahraini government's response.
On Oct. 28 the administration notified Congress of its intention to sell Turkey $111 million worth of Cobra helicopters, including parts, maintenance and training. But some lawmakers' problems with Ankara have more to do with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's daring to stand up to Israeli arrogance than with the proposed arms sale. On Sept. 19 six senators, led by Kirk, wrote to Obama urging him "to mount a diplomatic offensive" to reverse Turkey's "policy of confrontation, if not hostility, towards our allies in Israel." Similarly, on Nov. 2 seven House members, led by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), wrote to Obama expressing their concern "about Turkey's drift toward confrontation with our closest friends and allies in the Eastern Mediterranean."
On Nov. 3—too late to stop the sale—Rep. Shelley Berkley (R-NV), with 12 co-sponsors, introduced H.J.Res. 83 "disapproving" the proposed sale.
Senate Measures Would "Congratulate" Tunisia, Libya, While Bill to Cut Lebanon Aid Gains Some Support
In the Senate on Nov. 15, Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ), joined later by Rubio, jointly introduced S.Res. 316, which would "congratulate the people of Tunisia for holding on Oct. 23" free elections, and S. Res. 317, which would "congratulate the people of Libya" for "liberating themselves from the despotic regime of Muammar Qaddafi."
But H.R. 2215, the "Hezbollah Anti-Terrorism Act" introduced in June by Berman, has gained 2 co-sponsors and now has 14, including Berman. It would "prohibit assistance from being provided to or for the benefit of a Hezbollah-dependent government of Lebanon."
Shirl McArthur, a retired U.S. foreign service officer, is a consultant based in the Washington, DC area.