1. Bills & Resolutions
2. Settlements = Israel: 2015 in Review
4. On the Record
1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters
(MORE US-ISRAEL ECONOMIC COOPERATION) H. Res. 551: Introduced 12/3 by Lieu (D-CA) and 3 cosponsors, “Recognizing the importance of the United States-Israel economic relationship and encouraging new areas of cooperation.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Lieu press release is here.
(STILL TRYING TO UNDERMINE THE JCPOA) H. Con. Res. 100 and S. Con. Res.26: Introduced 12/1 by Roskam (R-IL) and 5 cosponsors in the House, and Kirk (R-IL) and 2 cosponsors in the Senate, “Expressing the sense of the Congress regarding the right of States and local governments to maintain economic sanctions against Iran.” [Short title of Senate version is: “A concurrent resolution expressing the sense of Congress regarding the right of States and local governments to maintain economic sanctions against Iran.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Roskam press release is here. Kirk press release is here. For analysis of this effort, see: Iran Hawks Try a New Congressional Tactic (Tyler Cullis in LobeLog)
(STILL TRYING TO UNDERMINE THE JCPOA) H. Res. 553: Introduced 12/3 by Zinke (R-MT) and 30 cosponsors, “Urging the President and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to submit to Congress the text of all side agreements entered into between the IAEA and Iran with respect to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” The resolution urges, that Congressional approval of additional funding for the IAEA (vital for overseeing implementation of the JCPOA and ensuring that Iran does not cheat), “the President and the IAEA submit to Congress the text of all side agreements entered into between the IAEA and Iran with respect to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Also see: GOP lawmaker wants to withhold funds to nuclear watchdog over Iran (The Hill, 12/3).
(SETTLEMENTS = ISRAEL) HR 644: Introduced 2/2/15 by Reed (R-NY), the “Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015” aka the Customs Bill. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill include language conflating Israel and settlements in the West Bank (House version is much worse). Back in June, the bill bounced back and forth between the House and Senate, with each chamber passing their version of the bill. On 6/24, the Senate insisted on its version of the bill and asked for a conference with the House to resolve difference in the two versions of the bill, and appointed its conferees. On 12/1, the House insisted on its own version of the bill and agreed to a conference, and on 12/2 appointed its conferees. Senate conferees are: Hatch (R-UT), Cornyn (R-TX); Thune (R-SD), Isakson (R-GA), Wyden (D-OR); Schumer (D-NY), and Stabenow (D-MI). House conferees are Brady (R-TX), Reichert (R-WA), Tiberi (R-OH), Levin (D-MI), and Sanchez (D-CA). Given that pro-settlement provisions are in both bills, it seems certain that pro-settlement language will be in the conference version; given the vast difference between the Senate version (which if basically a non-binding sense of Congress) and the House version (which includes far-reaching, binding elements), it is not at all clear how bad the final version will be. If the final version looks anything like the House provision, it seems likely that President Obama will issue a signing statement when he signs the bill into law, given that the House version represents a flagrant effort by Congress to legislate U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank – which not only contradicts 48 years of U.S. policy, but is a breach of the Executive’s exclusive authority under the Constitution to confer recognition (as recently confirmed by the Supreme Court in the Jerusalem passport case).
(JCPOA OVERSIGHT BY CONGRESS: THE PLAN) Corker-Cardin letter to Obama: On 12/3, SFRC Chairman Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Cardin (D-MD) sent a letter to President Obama outlining their plans for ongoing oversight of the JCPOA. The letter states that the Committee will implement “a rigorous program to ensure effective Congressional monitoring and oversight of this agreement as well as its regional and nonproliferation implications.” The letter details plans for numerous hearings and briefings that will be part of this program of oversight and at which Administration officials will be expected to testify. Press release is here.
(MORE $$ & MORE WEAPONS FOR ISRAEL) Bennet-Blumenthal-Cardin et al letter: On 11/9 (not previously covered in the Round-Up), Senators Bennet (R-CO), Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cardin (D-MD) led a letter, cosigned by 13 other senators, to President Obama. They wrote: “…In addition to concluding a new MOU for security assistance to Israel we encourage you to provide the necessary and appropriate measures to deter Iran, including applicable ordnance and delivery systems, and to enhance Israel's QME over countries in the region…We also support providing missile defense funding, as necessary and appropriate, to accelerate the co-development of missile defense systems, and increased bilateral cooperation on cyber, intelligence, and research and development for tunnel detection and mapping technologies…We urge you to engage at the highest levels to continue a process to develop a shared understanding of the threat environment confronting Israel, and to take bold steps to strengthen the MOU that serves as the foundation of our bilateral security efforts.”
(OBAMA MISLED AMERICANS ON IRAN/PMD ISSUE!) Pompeo-Roskam-Zeldin letter to Kerry: On 11/30, Reps. Pompeo (R-KS), Roskam (R-IL), and Zeldin (R-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry accusing the Obama Administration of having misled the American people about the JCPOA and the question of possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. The letter states (among other things): “The administration’s position on PMD has either changed, or you never intended to insist that Iran resolve the PMD issue before providing sanctions relief. For this reason, we request that you explain these contradictory statements, and provide, in writing, precisely what the administration’s position is on the necessity of resolving the PMD issue before sanctions relief.” Press release here.
2. Settlements = Israel: 2015 in Review
The previous two Round-Ups included sections summarizing efforts in Congress to re-define “Israel” as “Israel-plus-the-settlements.” Below is a more fully-fleshed out summation, which was published this week here.
The Stealth Campaign in Congress to Support Israeli Settlements
by Lara Friedman
Since the beginning of this year, an unprecedented but little-noticed campaign has been waged in Congress—backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and others—in support of Israeli settlements. At the core of this campaign is an effort to legislate a change in U.S. policy, which since 1967 has remained firmly opposed to settlements, under both Republican and Democratic presidents.
Backers of the campaign, both in Congress and among outside groups like AIPAC, are promoting numerous pieces of legislation that redefine “Israel” to mean “Israel-plus-the-settlements” and make supporting settlements an integral and mandatory part of American support for Israel, as a matter of policy and law. They pass off their efforts as an entirely non-controversial matter of countering boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) against Israel in general, countering BDS policies adopted by the EU and some European countries, in particular.
Exploiting the fog-of-panic over BDS, they paint their efforts in black-and-white, “with-Israel-or-against-Israel” terms. And, whether out of fear, ignorance, or actual support for the campaign’s pro-settlements agenda, most members of Congress have swallowed this explanation without protest. They have done so despite the fact that not a single European country has adopted anything even resembling BDS policies against (Europe remains Israel’s largest trading partner today), and despite the fact that even a cursory examination of the legislation and policies in question reveals that they have nothing to do with, and would have no impact on, BDS targeting Israel, but rather would only result in U.S. support for settlements.
Thus far, the campaign—both in its brazenly dishonest framing and for its highly-controversial goal—has gone largely unnoticed and unchallenged. A handful of experts (including this author) have worked tirelessly to educate Congress and the public to what is really going on; a few talented journalists have tried to tell the whole story (for example, here and here). In the one case where the campaign managed to pass pro-settlements language into law, the Obama administration made clear that U.S. policy on settlements would not change. Regrettably, this clarification had no noticeable impact in Congress.
As documented in detail below, backers of this campaign clearly believe they have found a winning strategy, one that involves hijacking more and more elements of U.S. foreign policy and working to tie them, in law, to U.S. support for settlements. The energy behind this campaign shows no sign of abating, and there are no indications that Congress is waking up to the dangers this campaign holds—not only for the chances of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, but for an ever-widening range of U.S. policies and interests.
The 2015 “Settlements=Israel” Campaign: A Year in Review
Winter 2015: Initial Legislation Introduced: On February 10, Representatives Roskam (R-IL) and Vargas (D-CA) introduced HR 825. On March 2, Senators Cardin (D-MD) and Portman (R-OH) introduced their companion bill, S. 619 (Cardin announced he would be introducing S. 619 on March 1, at a plenary session at the AIPAC policy conference). Shortly thereafter, both bills were posted on AIPAC’s website as part of AIPAC’s legislative agenda (and remain there as of this writing). Notably, on September 9, 2014 Buzzfeed reported that AIPAC was directly involved in drafting the legislation. The ostensible purpose of both bills is to protect Israel from BDS policies adopted in other countries, particularly in Europe. In reality, these bills would define Israel, for the purposes of U.S. trade policies, as including the settlements, and make it U.S. policy to push back against policies that distinguish between settlements and Israel. The legislation also appears to lay the groundwork for barring the U.S. private sector from working with foreign companies that, on their own or consistent with laws to which they are subject, distinguish between Israel and settlements, and possibly even for extraterritorial sanctions. Notably, on its website AIPAC initially characterized the bill as concerned with the treatment of “Israel and her territories.” After attention was drawn to this unusual wording (unusual because it implies that AIPAC views the occupied territories as part of Israel), AIPAC removed the reference and its advocacy page now refers only to Israel.
Spring-Summer 2015: Pro-Settlement provisions attached to major trade bills. In April 2015, provisions similar to those in HR 825 and S. 619 were folded into two pieces of major trade legislation: the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, which eventually became HR 2146; and the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (aka, the Customs Bill), which eventually became HR 644. During House and Senate Committee consideration of the provisions (Senate is here, starting at 09:01; House is here, starting at 18:00), members repeated concerns about BDS and “economic warfare” against Israel, ignoring the fact that the provisions would have no impact on BDS and would serve only to defend and promote settlements. President Obama signed HR 2146, including the pro-settlements provision, into law on June 29. The pro-settlements provision was of sufficient concern to the Obama administration that on June 30 it issued a statement clarifying that the bill’s conflation of Israel and settlement was not U.S. policy. This clarification may be intended to lay the groundwork for a veto or signing statement of future legislation containing similar provisions.
Fall 2015: Warning the EU over settlements policy. On November 9, Senators Cruz (R-TX) and Gillibrand (D-NY), along with 34 other senators, sent a letter to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, slamming the EU for its impending policy of requiring that labels on products coming from Israeli settlements accurately reflect their point of origin, which means they cannot say “made in Israel.” On November 10, Representatives Lamborn (R-CO) and Weber (R-TX), along with 34 of their House colleagues, sent a similar letter to Mogherini. Both letters treat the EU policy as a form of BDS against Israel. The Senate letter specifically references the pro-settlements provisions passed into law as part of the TPA legislation as justification for its attack on the EU’s policy, underscoring the fact that defending settlements was, from the start, the intent behind those provisions.
Fall 2015: Urging USTR action against the EU over settlements policy. On November 12, following the EU’s publication of its new settlement labeling policy, Representatives Roskam (R-IL) and Vargas (D-CA), and Senators Portman (R-OH) and Cardin (D-MD)—the foursome behind the original pro-settlement bills, HR 825 and S. 619—jointly sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, opposing the EU labeling policy and urging U.S. intervention. The letter references the pro-settlement provisions in the TPA bill as justification for its demands, underscoring (again) that defending settlements was, from the start, the intent behind those provisions. The letter also makes explicit the members’ goal of erasing the 1967 lines (aka, the Green Line) by introducing a new term of art for the occupied territories: “post-1967 Israel.” This term (like the one used and then deleted by AIPAC earlier in the year, “Israel and her territories”) clearly discloses a political agenda of legitimizing Israeli settlements.
Fall 2015: Holding Ex-Im Bank funding hostage to support for settlements. In late November, Senators Portman (R-OH) and Cardin (D-MD)—who are playing a consistent and energetic role in leading the pro-settlements campaign to add pro-settlements language—began an effort to link funding for the Export-Import Bank (which is currently shuttered for lack of funding) to support for settlements. Their effort, which once again being framed as pro-Israel and anti-BDS, is reportedly strongly supported by Wyden (D-OR) and Senate Minority Leader Reid (D-NV). In a letter lobbying for inclusion of the provision, Portman and Cardin specifically cite the pro-settlements provision in the TPA bill as precedent and point to the EU’s recent settlement products labeling policy as a concrete example of BDS against Israel that Congress must fight.
******UPDATE – DEVELOPMENTS SINCE THE PUBLICATION OF THE PRECEDING ARTICLE******
Fall 2015, continued: Ex-Im Bank funding pro-settlements amendment jettisoned. On 12/2, Reid (D-NV) publicly slammed Senator Majority leader McConnell (R-KY) for allegedly blocking the (faux) anti-BDS provision from being included as part of the Ex-Im funding language. According to Politico, Boxer (D-CA) said she “tried to insert language hitting BDS in the bill as a standalone measure and not as part of Ex-Im to try to skirt the controversy, to no avail.”
Fall 2015, continued: Major trade bill containing pro-settlements provision moves toward passage. After lying moribund since the summer, this week the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (aka, the Customs Bill), HR 644, came back to life. Prior to this week, the last action on the bill was on 6/24, when the Senate insisted on its version of the bill and asked for a conference with the House to resolve difference between the House and Senate versions of the bill (and appointed its conferees). On 12/1, the House took up HR 644 again, insisting on its own version of the bill and agreeing to a conference (and on 12/2 appointing its conferees). The conferees will now meet to try to hash out an agreed version of the text, which will then go to both houses of Congress for final passage. As noted in Section 1, above, the Senate version of HR 644 includes pro-settlements language, but this language is limited to a non-binding statement of policy. The House version of HR 644 includes the entire text of HR 825 (discussed above, under Winter 2015). Given that there are pro-settlement provisions are in both bills, it seems certain that pro-settlement language will be in the conference version – but it is not at all clear how bad the final version will be or whether the Obama Administration will feel compelled to further clarify that it does not accept this conflation (as it did the TPA bill became law). If the House version prevails, it seems likely that President Obama will issue a signing statement when he signs the bill into law, given that the House version represents a brazen effort by Congress (backed/pushed by AIPAC and others) to legislate U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank – which not only contradicts 48 years of U.S. policy, but is a breach of the Executive’s exclusive authority under the Constitution to confer recognition (as recently confirmed by the Supreme Court in the Jerusalem passport case).
12/9: The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “U.S. Strategy to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and U.S. Policy Toward Iraq and Syria.” Scheduled witnesses are U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Paul Selva.
12/3: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a CLOSED hearing to receive a briefing on the United States role in the Middle East. Briefers were former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.
12/2: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a CLOSED/CLASSIFIED hearing to receive a briefing entitled, “JCPOA Oversight: The IAEA's Report on the Possible Military Dimensions of the Iranian Nuclear Program.” Briefers were Ambassador Stephen D. Mull, Department of State Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation, and Dr. Kevin Veal, Director of Nuclear Safeguards and Security at the Department of Energy.
12/2: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps: Fueling Middle East Turmoil.” Witnesses were: Ali Alfoneh, FDD (statement); Scott Modell, The Rapidan Group (statement); and Daniel Benjamin, Dartmouth College & Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism (statement). Chairman Royce’s (R-CA) opening statement is here; Ranking Member Engel’s (D-NY) is here. Video of the hearing is here.
12/1: The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled “U.S. Strategy for Syria and Iraq and its Implications for the Region.” Witnesses were U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (statement) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. Video of the hearing is here.
On Iran (mainly on IAEA report on PMD)
Nadler (D-NY), Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), & Davis (D-CA) 12/4: “This report demonstrates yet again that we must maintain vigilance over Iran and its nuclear ambitions...In voting to support the Iran nuclear deal, we viewed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as our best option for stopping Iran from developing a nuclear bomb because it offers the best guarantee for intrusive oversight and access into Iran’s nuclear program. Iran must fully comply with all the terms set out in the JCPOA and with the IAEA in its ongoing monitoring. Along with our colleagues, we will remain vigilant to make sure that we are taking all steps to ensure that Iran is not able to pursue nuclear weapons’ capabilities, as well as supporting the snapback of sanctions if Iran is caught cheating.”
Cruz (R-TX) 12/4: Sen. Cruz to Obama Administration: Release Details of the Iran Nuclear Deal [or I will keep blocking political nominees (Cruz blocked 4 nominees over this demand on 12/3]
Feinstein (D-CA) 12/3: “Under the P5+1 nuclear agreement, Iran was required to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation into its past nuclear weapons-related work—and it has done so. Completion of the IAEA report is an important milestone. “The IAEA’s assessment was largely consistent with the view of the United States intelligence community, which is that Iran had a nuclear weapons program until 2003. While Iran’s past work is disturbing, it only underscores the importance of and need for the nuclear agreement. “Now that the IAEA has completed its accounting of Iran’s past, it’s time to look to the future—it’s time to fully implement the nuclear agreement. Should Iran try to restart its nuclear weapons-related work, we will be in a far better place to detect and stop it with the agreement in place than without it.”
Hoyer (D-MD) 12/3: “Yesterday’s IAEA report on Iran’s military program confirms what we’ve known for years – that, in spite of its leaders’ stonewalling, dissembling, and deception, Iran indeed pursued a secret nuclear weapons program at least through 2003 and conducted weapons development activities after that point, even as late as 2009. Its program was inconsistent with peaceful use of nuclear technology, as had been claimed by Iran’s regime in the past. Unfortunately, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) does not explicitly require that the information Iran provides be complete or accurate on its past military activities, and this report makes clear that the information they provided was certainly incomplete and probably inaccurate. Moving forward, in the context of Iran’s other requirements under the JCPOA, such non-responses or omissions should be treated as violations requiring snap-back of sanctions. We cannot allow Iran to test the will of the international community without a serious and unequivocal response. For this reason, the P5+1 nations must continue to enforce every aspect of the JCPOA vigorously in order to ensure that Iran’s leaders cannot exploit any ambiguities or commit potential violations. I will be examining closely the technical aspects of the IAEA’s conclusions, and at this point it is not clear to me from this report that the IAEA can say definitively that it fully understands the history and scope of Iran’s nuclear program. The full story of Iran’s nuclear program has yet to come out, and we must continue to press for a complete and thorough disclosure as we move to enforce the JCPOA to the full letter and spirit of the agreement.”
Lowey (D-CA) 12/3: “The IAEA’s latest report that Iran continued to develop nuclear weapons until 2009 is deeply troubling and deserves considerable scrutiny by Congress and our international partners. Though Iran’s long-suspected illicit work has been confirmed, Iran cannot be permitted to pursue covert nuclear activities in the future. The IAEA must continue its investigation with Iran’s full cooperation. Iran’s willingness to provide access to people, places, and documents is a critical test of their overall commitment to transparency going forward.”
Engel (D-NY) 12/2: “Today’s IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program adds to the existing evidence that Iran had been working on a nuclear weapon. The IAEA reports that Iran’s weapon program appears to have stopped, but we can’t be certain: Iran hasn’t fully cooperated with the IAEA investigation, so we’re left with too many unanswered questions. I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that Iran continues to try to hide evidence of its nuclear military program. The United States and our allies must continue to pursue a clear resolution to these questions.”
Kirk (R-IL) 12/2: “Today’s IAEA assessment raises more questions about Iran’s nuclear weapons program than it answers. The only clear point is that Iran stonewalled inspectors. It’s critical that the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors continue Agency investigations until Iran comes clean on all activities. Regardless of the Administration’s flip-flops on whether Iran should come clean, international inspectors should uncover the complete truth.”
Pompeo (R-KS) 12/2: IAEA Report Proves Iran Lied about Its Nuclear Program
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 12/2: IAEA Report on Possible Military Dimension of Iran’s Nuclear Program Proves Iran Has Long Record of Deceit; Responsible Nations Must Hold Tehran Accountable, Not Appease It
Royce (R-CA) 12/2: “The IAEA report proves Iran lied. For years, the Iranian regime worked secretly to develop a nuclear weapon. And there are still important questions that remain unanswered. For example, how far did Iran get toward building a bomb? And what happened to all of the materials, research, and expertise Iran acquired?...”
Pompeo (R-KS) 12/1: Pompeo: President Calls for Legally Binding Climate Deal, Defends Unsigned and Non-binding Iran Nuclear Deal
Zeldin (R-NY) 11/30: Obama Administration “Misled” Americans with False Promise about Iran Nuclear Deal
Rubio (R-FL) 11/23: Iran Using Jailed Washington Post Reporter As A Pawn, And Obama Administration Continues To Do Nothing
On other issues
Walorski (R-IN) 12/2: Remembering Ezra Schwarz
Royce (R-CA) 12/2: Readout of House Foreign Affairs Committee Meeting with Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon
Pompeo (R-KS) 12/1: Pompeo Condemns Ongoing Violence in Israel
Gohmert (R-TX) 12/1: Floor speech entitled “Radical Islamic terror” which is actually that in assessing massacres, it is critical to understand the shooter’s motive: “We know why Islamic terrorists do what they do. They think that that is contributing to the caliphate.” On the other hand, in reference to the Planned Parenthood shooting, “what effect does an administration lying and being lawless have on what traditionally has been a majority law-abiding country? Can it create helplessness, a feeling, or a need that perhaps we need to take the law into our own hands? I would tell anyone that is never justified. You do it through lawful means, through the government. Of course, Thomas Jefferson might say otherwise…How about the lawlessness of seeing the Planned Parenthood videos and not only not be offended or finding those grotesque and inhumane but actually having the Department of Justice stand ready to be the criminal defense firm for Planned Parenthood and stand by Planned Parenthood in these alleged horribly egregious violations of humanity? Would that invoke helplessness? It shouldn't invoke anybody to violence, but could it?”
Wilson (R-SC) 11/30: On Obama’s “legacy of tragic failure,” including, “The President's failure to enforce a declared red line in Syria, the President's abandonment of the people of Iraq, the President's capitulation to the autocrats of Iran allowing nuclear development, and the President's betrayal of Israel have been catastrophic and created chaos.”
Norcross (R-NJ) 11/25: Congressman Norcross Returns from 3 Nation Tour of Middle East
Nadler (D-NY) 11/25: Thanksgiving Message and Remembering Ezra Schwartz
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 11/24: Ros-Lehtinen Slams UN General Assembly’s “Palestine Day” As Platform for Delegitimizing Israel, Ignoring Palestinian Terror Attacks and Incitement to Violence
Hoyer (D-MD) 11/22: Hoyer Statement on the Murder of Americans by Terrorists