The 114th Congress convened for the first time in Washington this week.
In December, the Congressional Research Service released two reports on Iran: “Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses”and “Iran: U.S. Economic Sanctions and the Authority to Lift
APN 12/30/14: APN to Obama: Don't Block UNSC Resolution on Israeli-Palestinian Peace
APN 12/24/14: APN to Obama, Kerry: Now is the Time for UNSC Pro-Peace Resolution
Lara Friedman, 12/23/14 in the Forward: Stop Babying Israel at the U.N. Security Council
APN 12/15/14: APN to Obama Administration: Support Constructive Action at the UN Security Council to Promote Israeli-Palestinian Peace
(DEFUND THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY) S. 34: Introduced 1/6/15 by Paul (R-KY) and no cosponsors, “to prohibit assistance to the Palestinian Authority until it withdraws its request to join the International Criminal Court” (short title: “Defend Israel by Defunding Palestinian Foreign Aid Act of 2015”). Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Paul’s press release touting introduction of S. 34 is here.
(DEFUND THE UN OVER 4-YR-OLD UN REPORT) S.93: Introduced 1/7/15 by Vitter (R-LA) and no cosponsors, “to withhold United States contributions to the United Nations until the United Nations formally retracts the final report of the ‘United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict’.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Vitter introduced similar legislation on 1/23/13 (S. 95, no cosponsors) and 5/9/11 (S. 923, 3 cosponsors, all GOP). A House version was introduced 4/12/11 by Walsh (R-IL) (HR 1501, 43 cosponsors, all GOP). None of those efforts went anywhere.
(JERUSALEM CAPITAL/MOVE EMBASSY) HR 114: Introduced 1/6/15 by Garrett (R-NJ) and no cosponsors, “To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to relocate to Jerusalem the United States Embassy in Israel, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. NOTE: In 2013, on day 1 of the last Congress, Garrett introduced similar legislation (HR 104). That bill went nowhere in the 113th Congress, attracting only 28 cosponsors, of which 24 were Republicans.
(JERUSALEM CAPITAL/MOVE EMBASSY) S. 117: Introduced 1/7/15 by Heller (R-NV) and no cosponsors, “A bill to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to relocate to Jerusalem the United States Embassy in Israel, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
(DEMANDING ACTION AGAINST HAMAS SUPPORT FROM TURKEY & QATAR) Ros-Lehtinen et al letter: On 12/9/14 (not previously reported in the Round-Up) Reps. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Deutch (D-FL), Poe (R-TX), and Sherman (D-CA) lead a bipartisan letter to David Cohen, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Department of the Treasury. The letter seeks U.S. action against Hamas supporters in Turkey and Qatar. The other signers of the letter are: Chabot (R-OH), Kennedy III (D-MA), DeSantis (R-FL), Meng (D-NY), Weber (R-TX), Higgins (D-NY), Perry (R-PA), Frankel (D-FL), Cook (R-CA), Lowenthal (D-CA), Wilson (R-SC), Vargas (D-CA), Cotton (R-AR), Schneider (D-IL), Yoho (R-FL), Grayson (D-FL), Collins (R-GA), Cicilline (D-RI), Clawson (R-FL), and Meadows (R-NC).
(INVESTIGATE IRAN) Casey et al letter to Lew: On 1/2, Senators Casey (D-PA), Blumenthal (D-CT), Schumer (D-NY), and Gillibrand (D-NY) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew calling on him “to Investigate Possible Iran Sanction Violations at London Conference.” Among other things, the letter states, “We have grave concerns that Iran is exploiting ongoing diplomatic negotiations regarding its nuclear program to weaken the existing international sanctions regime. Recently, the National Iranian Oil Company’s (NIOC) deputy director for integrated planning, Moshtaghali Gohari, announced that 40 to 50 projects with a total value of $40 billion will be presented to foreign investors at a conference in London scheduled for February 23-25, 2015. We urge the Treasury Department to act quickly to investigate this matter and take enforcement actions if needed before the conference.”
The Rand Paul (R-KY) bill cited above (S. 34) is just on example of the outraged response on Cpaitol Hill to the Palestinians’ resort to the UN Security Council and, subsequently, to the Palestinians’ signing of the Rome Statute (which mens they are joinig the International Criminal Court. Speaking alongside Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel on 12/27/14, Sen. Graham (R-SC) promised: “There will be violent pushback if there’s any effort by the UN Security Council to set the terms of peace negotiations…” Further examples of Congressional reaction can be fou din section 4 of this Round-Up.
The analysis below was originally published 1/5/15, examining the question of what U.S. requires – and doesn’t require – in response to the Palestinians’ move, and looking at how this could all play out with Congress in the future.
In addition, there are growing reports from Capitol Hill and in the media that the government of Israel has withdrawn its support for U.S. funding for the PA, or, according to some sources, is actively lobbying Congress to cut off all assistance to the PA. Given that funding for the PA serves Israel’s interests at least as much as those of the Palestinians, it is not clear at this point whether this is just a short-term pressure tactic of the Israeli government (and in the end Israel will support continued funding), or whether the Israeli government has decided that with the Palestinian move to the ICC, they are now actively working to see the PA collapse.
As anybody who follows Israeli-Palestinian issues knows, on December 31, 2014, after the UN Security Council rejected a Jordanian-backed resolution that would have imposed terms of reference and a timeline for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Palestinian President Abbas did something – not everyone seems clear what – in the international arena. This Q&A looks at what Abbas actually did and did not do, and what U.S. law says about those actions.
Q: What did Abbas do following the failure of the Jordanian-backed UNSC resolution?
A: On December 31, 2014, Abbas signed 18 international treaties and conventions. These are:
- The Convention on the Political Rights of Women;
- The Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the ‘New York Convention’);
- The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal;
- The Convention on Biological Diversity and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity;
- The Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II);
- The Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem (Protocol III);
- The Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses;
- The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents;
- The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime;
- The Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel;
- The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea;
- The Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity; the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the International Criminal Court;
- The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court;
- The Declaration in accordance with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court;
- The Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons; and
- The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Q: What does U.S. law promise in terms of sanctions if the Palestinians sign international treaties and conventions?
A: There is nothing in U.S. law barring the Palestinians from signing international treaties or conventions, or threatening them with punitive action if they do so. U.S. law –as adopted in recent years by Congress and most recently less than a month ago in the FY15 Omnibus Appropriations bill – imposes sanctions on the Palestinians if they become members in any UN agency. The law says nothing about signing treaties or conventions, despite the fact that the Palestinians have taken similar steps before and had previously made clear that continuing with the strategy of signing treaties and conventions was possible, if not likely (as in, this shouldn’t have surprised anyone).
Q: Doesn’t U.S. law impose sanctions on the Palestinians for any further steps toward recognition or increased standing in the international community?
A: Two different U.S. laws impose sanctions if the Palestinians gain membership in any further UN agencies – cutting off aid to the Palestinians [see Sec. 7041(j), A(i)(I)] and de-funding the agencies in question. Abbas didn’t cross this red line in U.S. law, since he didn’t seek or gain membership in any further UN agencies. Arguably, the law requiring a cut-off of U.S. funds to agencies that admit the Palestinians might be applied to UN agencies that exist as a direct function of specific conventions and treaties, but in most if not all cases that does not appear to be an issue here.
Q: What about the International Criminal Court (ICC)? Abbas joined that, didn’t he?
A: Among the conventions and treaties Abbas signed on December 31, 2014 was the Rome Statute, which will in all likelihood make the Palestinians a member of the ICC (the issue is pending, as of this writing) . However, the ICC is not a UN agency. The ICC is legally and financially independent of the UN, so Abbas’ action doesn’t trigger the cut-off in funding for the Palestinians linked to joining an agency (and the U.S. in any case doesn’t fund the ICC, since the U.S. is not a party to the Rome Statute).
Q: Isn’t there another part of the law just dealing with the ICC?
A: The FY15 Consolidated Appropriations bill passed last month by Congress [see Sec. 7041(j), A(i)(II)] cuts off all aid to the Palestinians if,
“the Palestinians initiate an International Criminal Court judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.”
That bill, signed into law on December 16, 2014, does NOT require that sanctions be imposed on the Palestinians simply for seeking to join the ICC, or for being admitted as a member to the ICC, or even for asking the ICC to investigate Israelis. That law, as adopted by Congress less than a month ago, imposes sanctions ONLY if the ICC actually ends up investigating Israel, as the result of action initiated or supported by the Palestinians. In short, under current U.S. law, the Palestinians’ actions thus far fall short of tripping this legal trip-wire.
Q: That all may be true, but members of Congress are talking about punitive action for what Abbas did. What’s the story?
A: This appears to be the latest example of some in the U.S. Congress refusing to take “yes” for an answer from Abbas. Following the UNSC vote, Abbas took an action that was carefully calibrated to not cross any of the red lines laid down in law by Congress – and in response, some in Congress cried foul. We saw the same thing not long ago, when the Palestinians formed a reconciliation government that very deliberately met all Congressionally-mandated requirements. The response of many in Congress was to denounce Abbas and demand sanctions. Today we are seeing more of the same. This may be a case of some in Congress feeling like Abbas has “cheated” by obeying the letter but not the spirit of the law. Or it may be a case of lawmakers’ remorse – wishing now that they had not left open any loophole and trying to make amends to right-wing supporters. Or it may be a case of Congressional double-dipping – members actually welcoming a new opportunity to show how tough they can be on the Palestinians. More broadly speaking, this refusal is in line with the ongoing trend of right-wing forces in the U.S. and Israel to use Congress to try to cut off any possible path for Abbas other than capitulation or violence.
Q: What happens next in Congress?
A: Congress could pass new legislation closing the loopholes in the current law to try to prevent Abbas from signing more treaties (or to punish him if he does). Congress could pursue legislation post-facto punishing Abbas for what he did this time. Congress could amend the ICC law to punish Abbas for raising even a question about Israel, regardless of whether the ICC takes action. Or Congress could look for other ways to punish the Palestinians, including passing legislation imposing sanctions against the Palestinians (and potentially on the UN or member states) if the UN Security Council or UN General Assembly adopts terms of reference or a timeline for negotiations. Time will tell.
Q: What about the Palestinians? What happens next?
A: There are a few things to watch here. First, will the Palestinians go ahead at the ICC with efforts to seek an investigation targeting Israel and Israelis? If yes, and if they are successful, then U.S. sanctions, under current law, will come into play – sanctions for which there is no waiver. Second, there is the possibility that the Palestinians, if thwarted again by the U.S. in the Security Council, will join other UN agencies, something they have had the ability to do since 2011. If they do, under two separate U.S. laws, two separate kinds of sanctions come into play. First, the law passed less than a month ago, signed into law 12/16/14, will require a cut-off of all aid to the Palestinians; second, the longstanding, anachronistic law will require the U.S. to defund the UN agencies involved. There is a waiver for the former, but not the latter (which is why the U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after the Palestinians joined in 2011).
Q: Outside of the implications for Israelis and Palestinians, why is any of this really a big deal? Why should anyone really care?
A: All of this is a big deal because Congress has constructed U.S. law in such a way that it is not an exaggeration to say that the health and survival of the entire UN system has been linked to the Palestinians. Congress requires U.S. aid to the Palestinians to be cut off if the Palestinians join any UN agency – but grants the President the authority to waive the cut-off for U.S. national security reasons. At the same time, longstanding, anachronistic U.S. law requires the U.S. to de-fund any UN agencies that admit the Palestinians – but Congress included no waiver authority and some in Congress have made clear in recent years that they oppose adding any such waiver. In short, if the Palestinians eventually join other agencies – something they can do anytime – the U.S. will be compelled to take actions that could seriously weaken or bring down the entire international system. Such action would of course represent a clear threat to U.S. national security interests – a case of Congress cutting off America’s nose to spite its face – threatening the entire UN system to punish it for refusing to toe the U.S. and Israeli line with respect to treatment of the Palestinians.
Q: What would be the big deal about the U.S. de-funding UN agencies? The U.S. de-funded UNESCO and life went on just fine.
A: Most Americans didn’t notice or care that the U.S. de-funded UNESCO, because UNESCO has no direct impact on their lives. The same can’t be said about other UN agencies. Those who think that weakening or bringing down the UN system wouldn’t be a big deal should talk to trade experts about what would happen if the World Intellectual Property Organization(WIPO) – one of the foundations of the modern global economy – fell apart. Or talk to nuclear non-proliferation experts about the dangers of losing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Or talk to health experts about the dangers of losing the World Health Organization (WHO) in an era of increasing global health threats like Ebola. And Congress should consider this: concern about the Palestinians joining UN agencies, and the impact of such a move on the international system, appears to have played a significant role in European support for the recent UNSC resolution. Finally, those who think that de-funding UNESCO was no big deal would do well to take a moment to watch the Daily Show’s report on the topic: America's Problem with UNESCO Pt. 1; America's Problem with UNESCO Pt. 2
Q: If U.S. interests are really in jeopardy if a UN agency fails, wouldn’t Congress just add a waiver?
A: It is possible that if the Palestinians go the route of joining UN agencies, Congress could amend the law to add national security waivers, which would most likely be limited and subject to conditions. However, some things to keep in mind:
First, it is by no means a certainty that Congress would do so. There are those in Congress today who are as hostile to the UN as they are to the Palestinians, and who would likely oppose – ardently – any efforts to “water down” the existing law. And even is such waivers were added to the law, that would not be the end of the problem. And it is likely that conditions on such waivers would mean that even for those agencies that Congress wanted to keep funded, funding would become an annual battle.
Second, if Congress were to grant limited wiggle room for the U.S. to avoid harming its own interests by de-funding
UN agencies that admit the Palestinians, any such wiggle room would almost certainly be offset by some new form of
punitive legislation targeting the Palestinians and/or the UN. This is not idle speculation. For years
there have been those in Congress who have tried to go after the various UN agencies, organizations, and committees
that deal with the Palestinian issue. This is especially true with respect to the UN Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA), which some in Congress (and in Israel) seem determined to shut down. Such efforts would likely ramp
up in the context of any waiver of the existing law regarding the Palestinians joining UN agencies.
Third, and most importantly for the world, is this: If, based on the Palestinians’ joining UN agencies, Congress adopts a policy of arbitrarily deciding which UN agencies the U.S. will fund/de-fund on a case-by-case basis, this will likely be the death of the UN system. Congress might well decide to fund WIPO, the IAEA, or the WHO, but what about the other agencies that have no U.S. domestic constituency? These are agencies that help the sick, the poor, the most vulnerable around the world, but that Americans don't necessarily see as having an impact on their lives. It is not a stretch to argue that the UN system will not survive if the U.S. – the UN’s largest donor – adopts a de facto policy of selectively funding only those agencies that Congress deems important to the U.S., leaving agencies that serve the rest of the world (like UNESCO) to struggle and wither on the vine.
The 12/12/14 Legislative Round-Up -- for detailed analysis of Middle East provisions in HR 83, the FY15 Cromnibus bill
Text of HR 83 - the FY15 Cromnibus bill [relevant provisions found in Sec. 7041(j), A(i) and A(ii)]
11/3/11 analysis, Hijacked by Legislative Anachronisms – comprehensive look at U.S. legislation cutting of funding to UN agencies if they admit the Palestinians
During the holiday recess, the question of what Congress would do on Iran when it returned in January came up over and over. Most notably, perhaps, Sen. Graham (R-SC), speaking at a press conference in Israel alongside Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, not only promised that Congress would immediately move to pass new Iran sanctions, but in effect promised Netanyahu that Congress would let the Israeli Prime Minister lead Congressional actions on these issues. Sound like an exaggeration? Let’s go to the transcript: “…I’m here to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Congress will follow your lead. In January of next year, there will be a vote on the Kirk-Menendez bill, bipartisan sanction legislation that says, if Iran walks away from the table, sanctions will be re-imposed; if Iran cheats regarding any deal that we enter to the Iranians, sanctions will be re-imposed. It is important to let the Iranians know that from an American point of view, sanctions are alive and well. So we will be following your counsel and advice...” Graham also added at the end of his comments that, “The fate of one country determines the fate of the other.”
With Congress now back in session, it is now clear that Iran legislation is proceeding on two tracks:
Track 1 – Kirk-Menendez: This is a new Iran sanctions bill to be introduced, imminently, by Kirk (R-IL) and Menendez (D-NJ). It is expected to be an updated version of S. 1881, tweaked to at least make a pretense of addressing concerns of some Democrats that it could blow up Iran talks. Some Senate staff report that AIPAC is pressing Democrats to get on board with the new bill. While text has not been released as of this writing, it is expected that the Kirk-Menendez bill would legislate sanctions to be triggered by some specified Iranian behavior, and would demand zero-enrichment as a condition for any agreement. Both of these are anathema to a negotiated agreement with Iran: Triggered new sanctions are viewed, by the Obama Administration and reportedly by the Iranians, as violating the terms of the JPOA; zero-enrichment is widely recognized as an unrealistic – and wholly unnecessary – demand for an agreement that will adequately address international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and aspirations.
It should be recalled that S. 1881 garnered 43 Republican and 16 Democratic cosponsors. It seems certain that GOP support for a new bill would be comparably strong; it is not yet clear how many Democrats would buck the President and jump on board. Regardless, based on GOP support alone the bill can be moved quickly and passed in the Senate, and would be guaranteed passage in the House as well. The many-million-dollars-question, then, is whether there would be enough votes in the Senate to overcome a presidential veto – bearing in mind that Paul, R-KY and Flake, R-AZ, both declined to support S. 1881, and may well do the same thing this time around. This leaves the GOP with 52 votes, and needing 15 Democrats to override a veto.
Track 2 – Corker: This is new legislation expected to be introduced by Corker (R-TN), in effect giving Congress a chance to veto any Iran deal. Corker introduced similar legislation last year (S. 2650), but it went nowhere (see the 7/25/14 edition of the Round-Up for details). It is not clear at this point whether Corker’s efforts stand a better chance of success this time around, given that by all appearances Senate GOP leadership and members are focusing their efforts on the Kirk-Menendez bill.
For more on these two efforts, see:
CNN.com 1/9: New
Congress, new nuclear showdown over Iran
HuffPo 1/7: Congress Must Have Voice In Iran Talks, New Foreign Relations Chairman Says
National Journal 1/6: The New GOP Congress Is Preparing to Assert Itself on Iran
Jerusalem Post 1/6: Congress returns with punishing plans for Iran and the Palestinians
Times of Israel 1/5: New Congress plans for tough sanctions on Tehran
The Hill 1/4: Corker warns of possible sanctions on Iran
Al-Monitor 12/31: Rubio predicts no immediate vote on Iran sanctions [“The new Republican-controlled Congress will likely start 2015 by demanding an up-or-down vote on any nuclear deal with Iran, a leading Senate hawk told US public radio.”]
The Hill 12/31: Rubio: GOP Congress could hit Iran with new sanctions
Politico 12/29: GOP to move on Iran sanctions legislation
The Hill 12/27: Graham: Senate will vote on Iran sanctions legislation in January
Kirk (R-IL) 1/5: Kirk Statement on Palestinian Authority Efforts to Target Israel in the ICC
Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) 1/5: Wasserman Schultz Statement on Palestinian ICC Application
Israel (D-NY) 1/2: Rep. Israel Denounces the Palestinian Authority’s Decision to Join the International Criminal Court
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 12/31: All U.S. Funds to the Palestinian Authority Must Be Immediately Suspended After the PA Signs Rome Treaty, Says Ros-Lehtinen
Deutch (D-FL) 12/30: Facebook post blasting failed “attempt by Palestinian leaders to circumvent the negotiation process and advance statehood through unilateral moves”.
Gillibrand (D-NY) 12/29: Gillibrand Statement on Unilateral Palestinian Efforts at UN
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 12/19: French-Palestinian UN Security Council Resolution is Irresponsible, Will Undermine Any Prospect of Peace, Says Ros-Lehtinen
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 12/19: Ros-Lehtinen Says United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act Becoming Law Reaffirms Bipartisan Strong US Support for Israel
Engel (D-NY) 12/19: Engel Statement on UN Security Council Resolution on Palestinian Statehood
Graham (R-SC) and Schumer (D-NY) 12/18: Graham, Schumer Urge the State Department to Veto Any UN Resolution that Dictates Terms of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
Blumenthal (D-CT) 1/5: Blumenthal Urges Kerry To Make Every Effort To Secure Release Of Amir Hekmati, Other American Citizens Detained By Iran
Corker (R-TN) 1/4: Corker Discusses Key Issues Facing the Senate [including Iran] in the New Congress on Fox News Sunday
Paulsen (R-MN) 12/30: Paulsen Statement on U.S.-Iran Negotiations
Cardenas (D-CA) 12/23: Cárdenas Statement on Iran Negotiations
Kildee (D-MI) 12/23: Statement by Congressman Dan Kildee on Suspension of Amir Hekmati’s Hunger Strike in Iran
Casey (D-PA) 12/19: Casey Urges State Department to Redouble Efforts to Secure Release of Journalist Jason Rezaian
Cruz (R-TX) 12/18: Appeasing Our Enemies Makes America Less Safe and the World More Dangerous (w/ Wolf Blitzer)
Cruz (R-TX) 12/17: First Russia, then Iran, now Cuba: One More Very Bad Deal Brokered by the Obama Administration
…on other issues
Portman (R-OH) 12/16: Portman Calls on Administration to Protect Syrian and Iraqi Religious Minorities
Wicker (R-MI) and Brown (D-OH) 12/16: Wicker, Brown Call on State Dept. to Protect Syrian, Iraqi Religious Minorities