APN Legislative Round-Up: May 9, 2014

1.  Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. Focus on the Palestinians
3. Israel Visa Waiver Push – and Push-Back
4. Hearings
5.  Members on the Record

Briefly noted:

Peace Now (Israel) 4/29: Summary of the 9-Months Talks: Unprecedented Settlement Development
APN Statement 4/25: Potential Benefits of Pause in Israeli-Palestinian Talks
APN Statement 4/23: APN Welcomes PLO-Hamas Reconciliation Agreement
CRS report 4/28: Iran's Nuclear Program: Tehran's Compliance with International Obligations

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(NO AID TO PALESTINIANS) S. 2265:  Introduced 4/29 by Paul (R-KY) and having 17 cosponsors, the “Stand with Israel Act of 2014.”   Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.   The bill seeks to bar all assistance to the Palestinian Authority – irrespective of whether reconciliation talks achieve some sort of unified Palestinian government approved of or with Hamas – unless the PA meets a list of conditions.  These conditions include: “(1) formally recognized the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state” and “(2) publicly recognized the state of Israel.”  Requirement #1 is, of course, the new “recognition-plus” demand that Prime Minister Netanyahu has introduced into the mix (for background on why this is so problematic, see the APN resource page, here).  Notably, in his public statements on the bill (see here and here, for example), Paul appears either to not understand the difference between this demand and the simple demand to recognize Israel, or to be trying to conflate the two.  On 5/1, Paul spoke on the Senate floor in support of his bill, making the case for the measure to be immediately discharged from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and brought to a vote.  SFRC Chairman Menendez (D-NJ) objected, both in terms of procedure and the substance of the bill.  Their exchange is hereAIPAC reportedly opposes the bill, as do right-wing stalwarts like WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin and Elliot Abrams – primarily out of concern that a wholesale cut in aid to the PA will have negative ramifications for Israel.

(SUPPORT THE SETTLEMENTS) HR 4519: Introduced 4/29 by Stockman (R-TX) and having no cosponsors, the “Prohibiting Discrimination Against Israel Act.”  The actual description of what the purpose of the bill is: “To prohibit the United States from funding projects that discriminate against Israeli organizations that operate beyond the 1949 armistice lines” – making clear that the bill is not about prohibiting discrimination against Israel, but against settlements and related activity (in effect adopting the Netanyahu approach that settlements and Israel are indistinguishable, and seeking to distinguish between them is therefore a form of discrimination against Israel if not anti-Semitism). Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  Stockman’s press release on his bill is here.

(NDAA) HR 4435 : On 5/8, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015
was reported out of the various committees/subcommittees of jurisdiction.  The hours-long markup of the measure in the House Armed Services Committee included an important debate over the issue of a deal with Iran, with an amendment from Lamborn (R-CO) – adopted by voice vote – that in effect argues that there should be no deal unless it addresses every issue of concern to the U.S. with Iran, including those not directly related to the nuclear issue (Lamborn’s press release on his amendments is here).  Smith (D-WA) offered a powerful response to Lamborn in support of diplomacy (followed by Franks, R-AZ, speaking in favor).  The entire exchange is well worth watching, and can be viewed here.   This debate likely offers a preview of the kind of objections that will be coming to any Iran deal – i.e., arguments that a deal that fails to solve everything is a bad one and should be rejected, even if it addresses concerns on the nuclear program.  Such arguments appear to be coming closer to openly suggesting that regime change, not simply dealing with the nuclear threat, is the real goal (even if it requires war).  In addition, the Committee adopted an amendment from Walorski (R-IN) requiring reports on Iran’s nuclear program.  The right-wing Free Beacon portrayed this amendment as “a bid to legally force the White House into sharing information and provide oversight over the Iran deal.”  The NDAA also includes funding for Israel missile defense programs; in a 4/30 markup of the bill in the Strategic Forces subcommittee, chairman Rogers (R-AL) highlighted key elements of the bill, with Iron Dome and related funding coming as the first highlight listed (“In missile defense, we will support the Israeli Cooperative and Iron Dome programs and ensure the requested increase is fully justified while also continuing to make progress on U.S.-based co-production and strengthen our ally, Israel...”).   Stay tuned for additional Middle East- and Iran-related amendments/debate when this bill comes to the floor.  Also see: Al-Monitor 5/9: House Defense bill calls for conditions on Iran deal, and Al-Monitor 5/6: Defense bill calls for military pacts with Gulf states

(IRAN SANCTIONS – AGAIN?) S.1881:  Is the Menendez (D-NJ) Iran sanctions bill back in play?  It certainly bears watching.  On 4/30, S. 1881 finally got its 59th cosponsor (Walsh, D-MT) – meaning that the bill crossed the elusive magic threshold of 60 cosponsors, i.e., in principle a sufficient number to break cloture and force a vote on the bill.  However, it should not be forgotten that a number of the bill’s cosponsors are on the record saying they do not support moving the bill, preferring to give diplomacy a chance to work (meaning that 60 cosponsors is not a guarantee, in this case, of breaking cloture).   Notably, last week Menendez reportedly told the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) that he still wants to see action on S. 1881 (implying it would be necessary to prevent a bad deal) and reportedly said “I think that time may be coming soon” for the bill to come up again.

(SYRIA WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL) H. Con. Res. 51:  Introduced 9/9/13 by Smith (D-NJ) and having 21 cosponsors, the “Immediate Establishment of Syrian War Crimes Tribunal Resolution.”  On 4/30, reported out of committee.

(SYRIA CRISIS) H. Res. 520: Introduced 3/14 by Royce (R-CA) and having 4 cosponsors, “Calling for an end to attacks on Syrian civilians and expanded humanitarian access.” On 4/30, reported out of committee.

 

Letters:

(CUT AID TO PA) Rubio/Kirk letter:  On 5/1, Senators Rubio (R-FL) and Kirk (R-IL) sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry stating that recent events prove that Israel does not have a partner for peace on the Palestinian side and urging the Secretary of State to “state publicly that there will be an immediate cut-off of relevant U.S. assistance unless there is full compliance with the letter and spirit of all provisions in the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act.”  Rubio press release is here.

(AIRLINE DISCRIMINATION AGAINST ISRAELIS) Schumer letter:  On 5/1, Senator Schumer (D-NY) issued an outraged press release and sent a letter to the Department of Transportation asserting that some airlines are discriminating against Israeli citizens and demanding that, if this continues, such airlines should be “fined and enjoined under our laws.”

(IRAN SANCTIONS & UN) Deutch/Meadows letter: On 4/14, Reps. Deutch (D-FL) and Meadows (R-NC), along with 41 cosigners, sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council.  The letter urges the UN “to hold the Iranian government accountable for violating Security Council Resolutions 1373 and 1747 by attempting to export a large shipment of arms and missiles to terrorist groups in the region…These brazen violations are consistent with Iran’s behavior on the world stage: Iran deliberately defies Security Council resolutions concerning its nuclear agenda; Iran has buttressed the Assad regime’s murderous campaign against Syrian citizens; and its leaders have called for the annihilation of Israel, a fellow U.N. member state.  In addition, Iran engages in mounting violations of universal human rights, as the people of Iran continue to suffer repression, discrimination, imprisonment, and torture at the hand of the Iranian government.”  Deutch press release on the letter is here.

 

2.  Focus on the Palestinians

Immediately after the news broke of the latest agreement between Fatah and Hamas to seek some form of national reconciliation, calls started in Congress to cut all aid to the Palestinian Authority.  These included statements of an intention to do so by senior members like Lowey (D-NY) and others

What was remarkable about these statements was not that they are being made (there is nothing unusual about members of Congress wanting to score points by showing extra toughness toward the Palestinians) but that they suggest that these same members of Congress do not support the very tough existing law that deals explicitly with the current situation – a law many of these members worked energetically in the past to enact, and most recently re-passed into law in January of this year. 

What is the law in question?  Its most recent incarnation is found in Sec. 7040 of HR 3547, the FY14 Consolidated Appropriations Act (signed by the President 1/17/14, becoming PL 113-76).  As discussed in the 1/24/14 edition of the Round-Up, Sec. 7040 is entitled “Limitation on Assistance for the Palestinian Authority” and consists of:

Perennial bill language banning U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority, along with Presidential waiver authority.  Also bars any funding for salaries of PA personnel in Gaza or for Hamas or any entity “effectively controlled by Hamas, any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member, or that results from an agreement with Hamas and over which Hamas exercises undue influence.”  The latter bar does not apply if the President “certifies and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that such government, including all of its ministers or such equivalent, has publicly accepted and is complying with the principles contained in section 620K(b)(1) (A) and (B) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended.”  Also, “the President may exercise the authority in section 620K(e) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as added by the Palestine Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-446) with respect to this subsection.”  (For details about what these legal references mean, see the analysis of the House ForOps bill in the 7/19/13 edition of the Round-Up).  The section also stipulates that the President can only use this waiver IF he can certify to Congress a number of things, including that “the Palestinian Authority is acting to counter incitement of violence against Israelis and is supporting activities aimed at promoting peace, coexistence, and security cooperation with Israel.” This section also bars any assistance to the PLO.

In short, the law as currently drafted (and in its previous incarnations), at least maintains the pretense of an opening to Palestinian reconciliation.  It in no way threatens or requires punishing the PA for simply seeking such reconciliation; to the extent that negative ramifications for reconciliation are threatened, such ramifications are triggered by the CHARACTER of the government or entity that comes out of reconciliation efforts, not the fact of the reconciliation itself.  AIPAC has publicly noted this element of the law in their objections to the Rand Paul bill, reportedly stating, “We believe the law currently on the books is strong and ensures that aid is contingent on key conditions that help maintain America’s influence, keep Israel secure and advance the peace process. AIPAC supports a cut-off of aid to any Palestinian government that includes an unreformed Hamas, and this is what is provided for in current law.”

The knee-jerk reaction of some in Congress to suggest that the mere act of seeking reconciliation places the PA beyond the pale – even before it is known if the effort will succeed and if it does, the nature of the government that will result – sends a message that Members of Congress who advocated and voted for the earlier formulation were in fact disingenuous in supporting even the most limited possible opening to reconciliation.  Worse, it sends a message that some in Congress oppose their own legislation because they simply aren’t willing to consider taking “yes” for an answer from the Palestinians – that is, they are determined to reject Palestinian unity, even if a reconciliation agreement meets all of Congress’ previously stated conditions.

 

3.  Israel Visa Waiver Push – and Push-Back

Recent weeks have seen an up-tick in efforts by some inside and outside of Congress to see Israel become part of the Visa Waiver program – accompanied by an up-tick in reports in the media drawing unflattering attention to some of the apparent obstacles to this happening.  

The first category of developments includes the announcement by the State Department of the formation of a working group to help Israel advance toward joining the visa waiver program.  This decision came following pressure from Members of Congress (see the 3/14/14 edition of the Round-Up for details of this pressure), as evidenced by the fact that the news of the working group came from a letter sent by the Department of State to Lowey (D-NY).  (Notably, when the issue was raised – and discussed at length – in the 4/22 State Department press briefing, the spokeswoman appeared to make clear that the rules of the Visa Waiver program are and will remain the same for every country, and that the current effort is to help Israel meet those requirements, rather than ease the requirements for Israel).

The second category of developments includes a lengthy report in Roll Call on 4/16, entitled “Fears of Israeli Spying Underlie Reluctance on Visa Waiver Program.”  On 5/8, Newsweek followed up with a major report on the same topic, entitled “Israel’s Aggressive Spying in the U.S. Mostly Hushed Up”.  That article noted, “The high number of young Israelis who overstay their visits to the U.S. has been a sticking point in Israel’s drive to get off the U.S. visa-required list.  Another is its failure to regularly report lost and stolen passports to Interpol. A bigger issue has been its rough treatment of Arab Americans and pro-Palestinian activists travelling to Israel. But Israeli efforts to pursue U.S. military, scientific and industrial secrets has also emerged as a major hurdle, if not the major hurdle, in normalizing visa relations, according to congressional sources.”

What happens now?  According to the Roll Call report and reports from some Hill watchers, Boxer (D-CA) has plans to amend the Visa Waiver language included in S. 462, so that it can be marked up and passed (the bill remains a top priority of AIPAC).  At the same time, on 5/8 Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Menendez (D-NJ) signed on as a cosponsor of S. 462 (including Boxer, there are now 62 cosponsors).  His decision to do so may signal his intention to allow the bill to move forward in committee in the near future.

4. Hearings 

5/8: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing entitled, “The Palestinian Authority, Israel and the Peace Process: What’s Next?”  Witnesses were Jonathan Schanzer, FDD [statement]; James Prince, The Democracy Council [statement]; and Robert Wexler, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace [statement].  Predictably, aside from Wexler’s testimony, the hearing was primarily a forum for grandstanding against the Palestinians, President Abbas, and against peace efforts in general, and for defending the actions and policies of the current Israeli government.  Video of the hearing is available here.  Ros-Lehtinen’s opening statement is here

4/29:  The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing entitled, “The Administration's FY 2015 MENA Budget Request: Priorities, Objectives and Challenges.”  Witnesses were Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs [statement] and Alina Romanowski, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator
Bureau for the Middle East [statement].  Predictably, the hearing repeatedly turned into a forum for grandstanding against the Palestinians and against peace efforts (with great focus on the accusation that the PA is funding terrorism by providing assistance to families of Palestinians held in Israeli jails), and for defending the actions and policies of the current Israeli government.  Chair Ros-Lehtinen’s opening statement is available here.  Video of the hearing is available here.

5.  Members on the Record

Tributes on Israel’s Independence Day, 5/6 (or thereabouts)

Colloquy (Frankel, D-FL; Cicilline, D-RI; Meadows, R-NC; Lowenthal, D-CA; Kilmer, D-WA; Sanchez, D-CA; Rahall, D-WV; Waxman, D-CA)

Wasserman-Shultz (D-FL)

Lowey (D-NY)

Delaney (D-MD)

Hastings (D-FL)

Perry (R-PA)

Vargas (D-CA)

Franks (R-AZ) and members of Israeli Allies Caucus

Lance (R-NJ)

Sen. Reid (D-NV)

 

Other:

 

Casey (D-PA) 5/8: On Syrian atrocities

McCain (R-AZ) 5/7: Honoring Shimon Peres

Gohmert (R-TX) 5/6: Rambling speech denouncing the Obama Administration, for the apparent conspiracy involved in employing people who are married to each other or related to anyone else who does anything of interest.  Also attacking Obama Admin policy on Egypt and Israel.

Lamborn (R-CO) 5/5: Press release taking credit for funding for Iron Dome

Smith (R-NJ) 5/2: In support for H. Con. Res. 51: “The suffering of the Syrian people must end, and we have the opportunity to help achieve that. H. Con. Res. 51 is a means to that end, and again, those who are committing these horrific crimes need to know that they face the certitude of punishment.”

Gohmert (R-TX) 5/1: Rambling speech slamming Obama Admin foreign policy, concluding with, “I hope and pray on this National Day of Prayer that we will humble ourselves, admit our wrongdoing, turn back to the God who has protected us--and He will bless our land.”

Gohmert (R-TX) 4/30: Rambling speech slamming Obama Admin foreign policy and, among other things, accusing Secretary Kerry of anti-Semitism, etc etc etc

Senate Republican Policy Committee 4/30: Statement - Israel Checks Its Back, Obama Nowhere to Be Found

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 4/29: Press release -Administration’s Failed Attempts at Peace May Prove Costly for the Future of Israeli-Palestinian Relations (excerpt: "...Abu Mazen has never been a willing and able partner for peace, and it was clear from the start that these negotiations would not yield any positive results...")

Ellison (D-MN) 4/29: Statement on Negotiations Between Israel and Palestinian Authority (on day talks expire):  "A lasting peace agreement between Israel and Palestine will require both sides to move beyond inevitable setbacks. Recent challenges in the process prove the need for more dialogue, not less. Both sides should commit to extending the current negotiations period to improve understanding and achieve a framework for peace. The reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah presents not just a challenge but a potential opportunity for a durable peace agreement. I understand Israeli leaders’ opposition to negotiate with a unity government given Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence. But any agreement that guarantees Israel’s long-term security and an independent Palestinian state will require peace with all the Palestinians, not just one faction."

Vitter (R-LA) 4/29: Statement - John Kerry is Part of Blame Israel Crowd

Leahy (D-VT) 4/29: Statement that under current circumstances, "...I am not prepared to sign off on the delivery of additional aid for the Egyptian military. I am not prepared to do that until we see convincing evidence the government is committed to the rule of law."

Lamborn (R-CO) 4/29: Condemning Kerry's comments on Israel

Peters (R-MI) 4/29: Condemning Kerry's comments on Israel & expressing disappointment over PA efforts at reconciliation with Hamas

Cotton (R-AR) 4/29: Condemning Kerry's comments on Israel and calling "at a minimum, should apologize for his remarks and the damage they have caused."

Gohmert (R-TX) 4/29: Rant against Obama Administration and Kerry for using word "apartheid," going after J St, etc, etc, etc..

Perry (R-PA) 4/29:  Slamming Obama Administration for "abandoning" Israel (proof being Kerry's use of the word "apartheid")

Cook (R-CA) 4/28: Condemning Kerry's comments on Israel

Cantor (R-VA) 4/28: Statement: "Secretary Kerry Should Apologize to the Israeli Government and People"

Cruz (R-TX) 4/28: Calling on Secretary of State Kerry to resign for using the word "apartheid" to describe danger facing Israel if peace efforts fail

Gohmert (R-TX) 4/28: Shocking brief statement slamming Kerry for using word "apartheid" and warning of retribution from God: "Secretary Kerry stands for those who support the destruction of Israel . He should not be speaking for this Nation. He needs to stand down before he brings judgment upon us all."

Gohmert (R-TX) 4/28: Another amazing brief statement, this time concluding: "Secretary Kerry stands for those who support the destruction of Israel. He should not be speaking for our nation. He must stand down or be removed from office."

Bachmann (R-MN) 4/28: Calling on Kerry to apologize to Israel and resign for using the word "apartheid"; also slamming Palestinian President Abbas for refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and for seeking reconciliation with Hamas; defending settlement construction; claiming Iran will nuke both Israel and the U.S.; etc.

Johnson (R-OH) 4/25: Oped slamming Kerry for suggesting that Israel has any responsibility for breakdown of peace talks or the conflict in general

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 4/24: UN Once Again Proves That it Has Become Nothing More Than a Hypocritical and Feckless Institution That Legitimizes Rogue Regimes (on Iran's appointment to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women and the U.N. Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, among other things).

DeSantis (R-FL) 4/24: Press release - DeSantis Rips Palestinian-Hamas alliance; Demands Funds be Withheld

Engel (D-NY) 4/24: Rejecting Palestinian reconciliation efforts

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 4/24: Press Release - As Peace Process Has Stalled, Secretary Kerry Must Unambiguously State that the U.S. Will Withhold All Funds Under a Hamas-Fatah Palestinian Government

Schneider (D-IL) 4/24: Statement on Halt of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks (slamming Abbas for seeking reconciliation)

Kaine (D-VA) 4/24: Statement on Palestinian reconciliation efforts (constructive statement about potential outcome of reconciliation)

Ayotte (R-NH) 4/24:  Slamming Abbas for seeking reconciliation with Hamas and refusing to recongize Israel as a Jewish state

Graham (R-SC) 4/24: Condemning Fatah-Hamas deal (blaming Obama Adminisration for it and calling for Congress to take a "forceful" stand against this decision.")

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 4/23: Press Release - Abu Mazen Choosing Hamas Over Peace With Israel Reveals His True Priorities; United States Must Immediately Suspend All Assistance to Palestinian Authority

Gillibrand (D-NY) 4/24: Condemning Fatah-Hamas deal

Deutch (D-FL) 4/23: Press release - Rep. Ted Deutch Warns against Unity Government with Hamas

Cruz (R-TX) 4/18: Politico Oped lauding signing into law of S. 2195, blocking new Iranian ambassador to the UN (and slamming Iran)

Boehner (R-OH) 4/17: Press release - Boehner codel discusses Russia, Syria, Iran, and American Energy Jobs in Turkey

Kinzinger (R-IL) 4/15: Statement on the abduction of the Jordanian Ambassador in Libya

Boehner (R-OH) 4/15: Press release - In Abu Dhabi, Boehner-Led Delegation Focuses on National Security & American Jobs

Kildee (D-MI) 4/12: Statement on Continued Imprisonment of Amir Hekmati

Engel (D-NY) 4/11: Engel Statement on Administration’s Decision to Deny Visa to Iran UN Ambassador Appointee

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