APN Legislative Round-Up: April 4, 2014

1.  Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. Palestinians, the UN, and Congress 
3. Hearings
4. Members on the Record
5.  Odds & Ends


Shameless plug:  Lara Friedman in Haaretz 3/30: What Israeli Palestinian mutual recognition really means


1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(HEZBOLLAH SANCTIONS) HR XXXX: Soon to be introduced (has not been introduced as of this writing) by Meadows (R-NC), Schneider (D-IL), Royce (R-CA), and Engel (D-NY), the “Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2014.”   4/3 press release from the cosponsors is here.  From the press:  Hezbollah sanctions bill targets central banks (Al-Monitor, 4/3); House bill aims to halt Hezbollah funding (Washington Times, 4/3); Congressmen seek tougher sanctions on Hezbollah (Times of Israel, 4/4). 

(STOP ALL US $$ TO THE PALESTINIANS) H. Res. 542: Introduced 4/3 by Yoho (R-FL) and 7 cosponsors, “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that United States foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority should be suspended until Palestinian Authority Government Resolutions relating to providing a monthly salary to anyone imprisoned in Israel's prisons as a result of participation in the struggle against the Israeli occupation are repealed.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  Special Order floor colloquy with Yoho (R-FL), Weber (R-TX), and King (R-IA) in support of resolution is here.  Of special note from King (R-IA):  “They [the Palestinians] need to have their hearts softened. They need to raise their children to love their neighbor as they love themselves. They need to understand that there is a good functional government going on in Israel proper and still likely the only place in the Middle East where an Arab can get a fair trial is in Israel, where Arabs serve in the Knesset, where they serve in the supreme court, where they have the rights of land ownership...” and “I would say this call out: Mr. Netanyahu, why don't you just ask us to take that money and give it to Israel instead? Give it to the people that are promoting peace, the people that are surrounded by enemies throughout, the people that had to stand there and face the all-out attacks over and over again...”

(SYRIAN WAR CRIMES) S. 2209: Introduced 4/3 by Cardin (D-MD) and 3 cosponsors, “the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2014”.  The bill would require the State Department to report to Congress on war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria by both the regime of Bashar al-Assad and violent extremist groups and other combatants involved in the conflict. The report also requires a description of U.S. government efforts to ensure accountability for human rights violations in Syria.  Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.  Press release from Cardin and Rubio (R-FL) touting the bill here.

(REJECTING NEW IRAN AMBASSADOR TO UN) S. 2195:  Introduced 4/1 by Cruz (R-TX) “to deny admission to the United States to any representative to the United Nations who has engaged in espionage activities against the United States, poses a threat to United States national security interests, or has engaged in a terrorist activity against the United States.”  The purpose of the bill is to block entry to the newly named Iranian ambassador to the UN, as explained by Cruz in his introductory remarks, here.  Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.  Graham’s (R-SC) statement in support of S. 2195 is available hereNote:  Refusing a visa to a duly appointed representative of a UN nation would violate U.S. treaty obligations as the host of the UN’s headquarters (see here – specifically sections 11 and 13).

(REJECTING NEW IRAN AMBASSADOR TO UN) HR 4357:  Introduced 4/1 by Lamborn (R-CO) and Bridenstine (R-OK), “To deny admission to the United States to any representative to the United Nations who has engaged in espionage activities against the United States, poses a threat to United States national security interests, or has engaged in a terrorist activity against the United States.”  Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.  See explanation of S. 2195, above, which applies to HR 4357 as well. Note:  Refusing a visa to a duly appointed representative of a UN nation would violate U.S. treaty obligations as the host of the UN’s headquarters (see here – specifically sections 11 and 13).

(FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN TURKEY) H. Res. 532: Introduced 4/1 by Eshoo (D-CA) and having 9 cosponsors (as of this writing), “Calls on the Government of Turkey to allow free expression and Internet freedom.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(CHRISTIANS IN TURKEY) HR 4347:  Introduced 3/28 by Royce (R-CA) and Engel (D-NY), the “Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  The bill would require the Secretary of State to provide an annual report to Congress regarding United States Government efforts to survey and secure the return, protection, and restoration of stolen, confiscated, or otherwise unreturned Christian properties in the Republic of Turkey and in those areas currently occupied by the Turkish military in northern Cyprus.  Engel’s statement on the introduction of HR 4347 is here.

(TURKEY/AREMENIAN GENOCIDE) S. Res.410:  Introduced 4/3 by Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirk (R-IL), “A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.  (NOTE: Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide has been a perennial point of friction in U.S. relations with Turkey.)

(SYRIAN HUMANITARIAN CRISIS)  S. Res. 384: Introduced 3/13 by Kaine (D-VA) and currently having 26 cosponsors, “A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate concerning the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighboring countries, resulting humanitarian and development challenges, and the urgent need for a political solution to the crisis.”  Considered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 4/1; reported out of the SFRC 4/2, and passed by the Senate 4/3 by a Voice Vote.


(NO TO NEW IRANIAN UN AMBASSADOR) Kirk et al letter:  On 4/3, Senators Kirk (R-IL), Rubio (R-FL) and 27 cosigners sent a letter to President Obama requesting that the U.S. “deny a pending United States visa application for Hamid Abutalebi, the Islamic Republic of Iran's announced choice to be their Ambassador to the United Nations (UN).  According to media reports, Hamid Abutalebi was part of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, the group that took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Mr. Abutalebi himself admitted serving as an interpreter during the hostage crisis.”    Note:  Refusing a visa to a duly appointed representative of a UN nation would violate U.S. treaty obligations as the host of the UN’s headquarters (see here – specifically sections 11 and 13).

(MORE $$$ FOR ISRAEL MISSILE DEFENSE) Roskam-Meng letter:  On 4/4, Reps. Roskam (R-IL) and Meng (D-NY) sent a letter to the Chairman and Ranking member of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense (Reps. Frelinghuyser, R-NJ, and Visclosky, D-IN) calling for an increase in funding for Israel missile defense programs.  The letter calls for FY15 funding of $350.9 million for Iron Dome—a boost of $175.9 million over the President’s budget and $130.9 million above fiscal year 2014 funding—and $268.7 million for the Arrow, Arrow 3, and David’s Sling systems, an increase of $172.1 million over the Administration’s request and level funding from fiscal year 2014.  Press release on the letter here; article in the right-wing Washington Free Beacon here.  NOTE:  Last month, Roskam and the Free Beacon (along with Rep. Lamborn, R-CO) appeared to be trying to manufacture a controversy around the argument that the Obama Administration was insufficiently funding Israeli missile defense needs (covered in detail in the 3/14 edition of the Round-Up).  That effort fell flat.

(IRANIAN ACCESS TO MEDICINE) Moran et al letter: On 4/4, Rep. Moran (D-VA) and 20 fellow members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama urging that “your Administration take actions to ensure that sanctions do no contribute to shortages of medicine, food, and licensed humanitarian goods for the Iranian people.  Such action could include the implementation of an Executive Order to exempt medicine-related transactions from sanctions and/or by establishing a direct financial channel for such transactions.” NIAC’s press release on the letter is here.

2. Palestinians, the UN, & Congress 

In November 2011, the Palestinians applied for membership in UNESCO, which they received following a vote by members of that body.  Due to an anachronistic law that remains on the books – requiring the U.S. to cut off all funding to any UN agency that admits the Palestinians – the net result was the U.S. cutting off funding for UNESCO (and later losing its vote in that body).    For full details of that mess, and the laws underlying it, see the 11/4/11 edition of the Round-Up- including links to articles reviewing other UN agencies the Palestinians can automatically join, if they so request, and the implications for U.S. interests). Also see this article in the Huffington Post.  As an added bonus, check out this hilarious and insightful 2-part piece that Jon Stewart did on the issue:  America's Problem with UNESCO Pt. 1; America's Problem with UNESCO Pt. 2

Following the November 2011 vote in UNESCO, Congress passed new legislation designed to directly punish the Palestinians – and not just the UN – for any further efforts to gain standing at the UN – Sec. 7086 of HR 2055 (which became Public Law112-74).  Under that law, and the current law – Section 7041(j)(2)(A)(i) of HR 3547 (which became Public Law 113-76) – no economic assistance may be provided for the Palestinian Authority if “the Palestinians obtain the same standing as member states or full membership as a state in the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians” or “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.”

A year later, in November 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to admit the Palestinians as a non-member observer state – a designation that falls short of triggering that same law, thus sparing the UN further (immediate) consequences.  For details of how this played in Congress, see the 11/30/12 edition of the Round-Up.

On April 1, 2014, following the failure of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to live up to his commitment to release a fourth tranche of prisoners as part of the ongoing peace negotiations, President Abbas signed letters of accession to 15 multilateral treaties and conventions the UN.  His action was largely symbolic, and did not appear to violate his commitments to Secretary of State Kerry – commitments on which the peace negotiations were based, along with the Israeli commitment to release prisoners (indeed, Kerry said so explicitly).  Nor did his action appear to violate the conditions currently stipulated under U.S. law, as it did not involve obtaining standing, of any kind, in any UN agency nor did it involve action of any kind at the ICC.  The PLO-authored brief on Abbas’ action is available here.

Nonetheless, some are arguing that Abbas violated his commitment to Secretary Kerry.  Moreover, a public narrative is being constructed that appears to try to re-write history in order to argue that the Palestinians’ resort to the UN was the cause of the Israeli failure to fulfill its own commitment to carry out the fourth prisoners release by the end of March (as opposed to the actual chain of events, with Israel reneging on that commitment, and then adding additional insult to injury by announcing new settlement tenders in East Jerusalem while Kerry was trying to find a way to break that impasse).  This re-written history – which thus far appears to be finding traction in Congress (as seen in section 3, below) – absolves Israel of any responsibility for the crisis in the current peace talks, placing full blame on the Palestinians.

What comes next remains to be seen.  Some are suggesting that Abbas’ action will lead to a cut-off of U.S. aid.  Under existing law, such a cut-off would appear to be neither required nor threatened, given the limited nature of the current Palestinian action.  However, if Congress feels Abbas has availed himself of a loophole to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law –  which appears to be the case – it is possible and indeed probable that Congress will pursue new legislation to make sure that this doesn’t happen again (and most likely to ensure that Abbas pays a price for having done so already).   For more on this, see: House warns Palestinian aid may be cut (Al-Monitor 4/2); Lawmakers signal Palestinian action could threaten funding (Reuters 4/2).

At the same time, some members of Congress seem to now grasp that at some point down the road (possibly soon) the Palestinians may up the ante by actually joining other UN agencies.  This is accompanied by a growing, much-belated realization that under current law (which has no waiver) the U.S. will be forced to effectively quit those agencies – a response that amounts to the U.S. cutting off its own nose, and undermining its own global interests, to spite the Palestinians.  Based on the discourse in the recent ForOps hearing, it seems plausible that Congress will move to change this situation.  Smart money is on Congress adding a waiver to the pre-existing UN-focused legislation, and adding new punitive elements to Palestinian-focused legislation.


3.  Hearings

4/9: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing entitled, “U.S. Policy Toward Morocco.”  Scheduled witnesses are Bill Roebuck, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and Maghreb Affairs, and Alina Romanowski, Deputy Assistant USAID Administrator (Middle East Bureau).

4/8: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing entitled, “Lebanon’s Security Challenges and U.S. Interests.”  Scheduled witnesses are: Larry Silverman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs; and Matt Spence, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy.

4/2:  House Appropriations Committee State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee hearing, “FY15 Budget Request for the United Nations and International Organizations.”  Video here.  UN Ambassador Power’s statement is here (includes section on fighting anti-Israel bias at the UN).  Chairwoman Granger’s (R-TX) statement is here (which discusses, among other things, President Abbas’ request this week to accede to 15 UN conventions, discussed in Section 2, above). 

It is worth noting that the very first issue raised by Granger and ranking member Lowey (who associated herself with Granger’s comments and noted that Abbas’ action was “extremely disappointing”) during the Q&A part of the hearing concerned the Palestinian decision to accede to 15 UN conventions (starting at 17:20 in the video).  Power categorically rejected/opposed any unilateral moves by the Palestinians at the UN, including this one.  She echoed Secretary Kerry’s argument that it is premature to make a final judgment about what impact the Palestinian move will have on the peace talks or prospects for an agreement.  She also spoke at length about the need for a U.S. national interests waiver of the law requiring a cut-off of funding to UN agencies if the Palestinians obtain membership, arguing that the law gives the Palestinians “a double win” – gaining them membership and excluding the U.S. from agencies in which participation is vital to U.S. national interests.  Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) later raised the issue again, asking about the appropriate U.S. strategic response to actions by the Palestinians at the UN (starting at 57:15).  The hearing also covered a great deal of ground, including with respect to Iran (see Lowey’s question starting at 23:00, and Yoder’s, R-KS, starting at around 01:00:00) and Syria (see Schiff’s, D-CA, questioning, starting around 01:10:28, and Dent, R-PA, at around 01:16:00). Dent also raised BDS at around 1:38:10.


4.  Members on the Record

Gohmert (R-TX) 4/3: Another rambling speech, among other things slamming the Palestinians for incitement, for teaching their kids to hate, and for thinking that their claim to the land is stronger than that of the people who were promised the land in the Bible; also arguing that Iran is building ICBMs to attack the U.S. (quoting Netanyahu on the latter point).  And linking the Obama Administration’s policy on these and other foreign policy matters, and Democrats in general, to the latest shooting at Fort Hood.

Tom Udall (D-NM) 4/2: Udall Presses Administration on Effectiveness of Iran Sanctions (at hearing of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee)

Corker (R-TN) 4/2: Press Release - Corker: Obama Administration Must Restore All Sanctions if Iranian-Russian Oil-for-Goods Deal Proceeds

Sherman (D-CA) 4/2: Press Release - Sherman Leads Bipartisan House Effort to Fund U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation

Isakson (R-GA) 4/2: Slamming Iran over the its new UN ambassador and demanding an Iranian apology for the 1979 embassy hostage taking and Iranian compensation to the hostages (“I hope a vehicle comes through the floor of the Senate where we can attach this.”)

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 4/2: Condemning Obama for “leading from behind” on foreign policy, including Iran

Ciciline (D-RI) 4/2: Condemning Kessab Attacks by y extremist fighters connected to al-Qaeda in Syria

McCain (R-AZ) 4/1: “I continue to believe that releasing Jonathan Pollard is the right thing to do. However, releasing Mr. Pollard simply to keep Israeli-Palestinian talks going is totally misguided and would be seen as a desperate attempt to avert failure.”


5.  Odds & Ends

The Daily Caller 4/2: Pro-Israel group slams GOP lawmaker Walter Jones
Washington Free Beacon 4/2: ECI Targets Jones Over ‘Left-Wing Foreign Policy Record’
Daily Beast 4/1: Exclusive: U.S. Intel Committee Chiefs Blast Deal for Israeli Spy
Asharq al-Awsat 4/2: US Representative Eliot Engel: Rouhani is not a moderate
Washington Free Beacon 4/1: Insiders: Merkley’s [undergraduate, 1979] Iran Thesis a ‘Political Liability’