APN Legislative Round-Up: April 11, 2014

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


1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(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.”  For details on the introduction of this bill, see last week’s Round-Up.  Passed by the Senate by Unanimous Consent 4/7 (Senate floor consideration here, with comments from Cruz , R-TX; Schumer, D-NY; Graham, R-SC; and Portman, R-OH). Passed in the House on 4/10, by voice vote (with no floor discussion, but separately there were statements from Lamborn, R-CO; Goodlatte, R-VA; and Roskam, R-IL).  Presented to the President 4/10. 

From the U.S. media: Congress to Iran: Ambassador's Application Denied (AP 4/10); Ted Cruz’s Iran bill heads to Obama (Politico 4/10); Congress Wants to Ban Iran’s Choice for U.N. Ambassador From the U.S. (Time 4/10); Congress rejects Iran's nominee for UN ambassador (Al-Monitor 4/10); Iran's U.N. envoy isn't a threat; By opposing Hamid Aboutalebi, the U.S. could jeopardize efforts to limit Tehran's nuclear program (LA Times 4/9); Can the U.S. Legally Deny Iran’s New U.N. Ambassador a Visa to New York? Nope. (OpinionJuris, 4/9).

Iranian reaction: Iran pick for UN slams US legislation on visa denial (Press TV, 4/11);  US Congress passes Iran UN envoy visa denial bill (Press TV, 4/10); US visa denial to Iran UN envoy unacceptable: Zarif (Press TV, 4/10); US position on Iran’s UN pick unacceptable: Afkham (Press TV, 4/9)

(HEZBOLLAH SANCTIONS) HR 4411:  Introduced 4/7 by Meadows (R-NC), Schneider (D-IL), Royce (R-CA), and Engel (D-NY), the “Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2014” (as previewed in last week’s Round-Up).  4/3 press release from the cosponsors is here.  From this week’s media coverage of the bill: House bill demands tougher line against Hezbollah (Al-Monitor, 4/7); Congress bill proposal to broaden US sanctions against Hezbollah (YNet, 4/4)

(GENOCIDE) S. Res. 413:  Introduced 4/7 by Coons (D-DE) and 2 cosponsors, “A resolution recognizing 20 years since the genocide in Rwanda, and affirming it is in the national interest of the United States to work in close coordination with international partners to help prevent and mitigate acts of genocide and mass atrocities.”  Referred to Senate the Committee on Foreign Relations 4/7; considered and reported out of the SFRC 4/10.  The resolution references the crisis in Syria, and its “resolved” clauses include: “(5) condemns ongoing acts of violence and mass atrocities perpetrated against innocent civilians in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan and elsewhere”.

(NEW US-ISRAEL COOPERATION PROGRAM) HR 4472: Introduced 4/10 by Fattah (D-PA) and no cosponsors, “To provide for the establishment of a grant program to support United States-Israeli cooperation for neuroscience-related research, and for other purposes.”  Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.


(IRAN SANCTIONS) Menendez-Kirk letter: On 4/7 Senators Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirk (R-IL) sent a letter to President Obama urging him “to put Iran on notice that United States is prepared to re-instate these sanctions should Iran attempt to evade our sanctions and violate the terms of the JPA.”  Press release on the letter is here.

(NO TO NEW IRANIAN UN AMBASSADOR)  Ros-Lehtinen-Deutch letter:  On 4/4, Representatives Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and  Deutch (D-FL), Chair and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East – along with 9 other members of the Subcommittee – sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry urging the State Department to “take immediate action and explore all legal avenues available to prevent” the entry of Hamid Aboutalebi as Iran’s new ambassador to the UN, based on Aboutalebi’s reported involvement in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.  Press release and Ros-Lehtinen’s statement on the letter is here (letter was posted after last week’s Round-Up was published).

2. The Palestinians, the UN, & Congress. Part 2 – the PLO Mission

Last week’s Round-Up discussed in detail the potential implications (or non-implications, as it turns out) of the Palestinians’ bid to join 15 international conventions, in terms of current U.S. law governing U.S. assistance to the Palestinians. 

Since then, questions have been raised about whether this bid has other implications, specifically with respect to the ability of the Palestinians to maintain the PLO mission in Washington.  In short, the answer is: the Palestinian bid to join the 15 conventions does not trigger provision in current law that would result in the ejection of the PLO mission from Washington. 

As noted last week, current legislation (Section 7041(j)(2) of HR 3547, which became Public Law 113-76), puts conditions on U.S. aid to the Palestinians.  In addition, part (B) of that section puts conditions on the maintenance of the PLO mission in Washington, although it does so in a sort of Congressional secret code, by referencing “section 1003 of Public Law 100-204.”  Section 1003 of Public Law 100-204 (page 76 in the pdf) prohibits the PLO from having an office in the U.S. (among other things).  This law dates back to 1987.  At the time, the PLO was still designated by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.  Also at the time, Congress was looking for ways to curb the nascent policy of President George Bush to open ties with the Palestinians (efforts that led to the Madrid Conference).  PL 100-204 was passed in this context.  Notably, the law includes no waiver authority of any kind.  Moreover, in the years since the PLO was removed from the FTO list and the U.S. has had relations with it, the legislation was never repealed (there is no case in memory of anti-Palestinian legislation ever being removed from the books).  Instead, a special waiver to this legislation was provided by Congress, in the early years as part of broad authorities included in the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act (MEPFA); later, after Congress allowed MEPFA to expire, the waiver was quietly included as an annual provision in the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.  Only in recent years, with Congress looking for new ways to punish/squeeze the Palestinians, has there been an effort to erode the waiver with new conditions or remove it completely.

To review, the current law conditioning aid to the Palestinians and operations of the PLO office stipulates:  

 (A)         (i) None of the funds appropriated under the heading `Economic Support Fund' in this Act may be made available for assistance for the Palestinian Authority, if after the date of enactment of this Act—

(I) 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

(II) 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.

(ii) The Secretary of State may waive the restriction in paragraph (A) resulting from the application of subparagraph (A)(i)(I) if the Secretary certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that to do so is in the national security interest of the United States, and submits a report to such Committees detailing how the waiver and the continuation of assistance would assist in furthering Middle East peace.

(B)          (i) The President may waive the provisions of section 1003 of Public Law 100-204 if the President determines and certifies in writing to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President pro tempore of the Senate, and the Committees on Appropriations that the Palestinians have not, after the date of enactment of this Act, obtained in the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof the same standing as member states or full membership as a state outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.

(ii) Not less than 90 days after the President is unable to make the certification pursuant to subparagraph (i), the President may waive section 1003 of Public Law 100-204 if the President determines and certifies in writing to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President pro tempore of the Senate, and the Committees on Appropriations that the Palestinians have entered into direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel: Provided, That any waiver of the provisions of section 1003 of Public Law 100-204 under subparagraph (i) of this paragraph or under previous provisions of law must expire before the waiver under the preceding sentence may be exercised.

(iii) Any waiver pursuant to this paragraph shall be effective for no more than a period of 6 months at a time and shall not apply beyond 12 months after the enactment of this Act.

Thus, if the Palestinians "obtained in the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof the same standing as member states or full membership as a state," the President could not waive Sec. 1003 of PL 100-204.  This would mean the PLO would have to be kicked out of the U.S. (unless the President could satisfy the additional waiver conditions in part ii, although that waiver appears to be written to require at least the temporary ejection of the PLO office from the U.S.).  However, the Palestinians did not join any UN agencies (so far) – meaning that under the current law, the President may still waive the anachronistic anti-PLO legislation if he wishes to do so, and there is thus no legal requirement (under the current law) to kick the PLO out of the United States. 

3.  Hearings

4/9: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “U.S. Foreign Assistance in FY 2015: What Are the Priorities, How Effective?”  The witness was USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah (statement).  Chairman Royce’s (R-CA) opening statement is here.  Video of the hearing is available here.  The hearing covered the entire world, including, with respect to the Middle East, Syria and the Palestinians.  Specifically, Ranking Member Engel (D-NY) asked Shah about aid to the Palestinians.  That exchange (starting at around 00:54:45 in the video) went as follows:

Engel:  “The Administration’s requested over $400 million in FY15 funds for the Palestinian Authority – and last week Palestinian President Abbas announced the Palestinians would be joining 15 international conventions seemingly in violation of their obligations under the agreement to negotiate.  Now they’re calling for several new preconditions to talks, making us doubt their good faith in the negotiations.  The only pathway to a Palestinian state and a sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinians is through a negotiated settlement, not a unilateral declaration by the Palestinian authority. So let me just simply say: how will our assistance strategy change if the Palestinians pursue the unilateral path?”

Shah: “Let me just say, Secretary Kerry has I think very ably articulated our – the Administration’s – position and the extraordinary leadership that he has taken to support negotiations and continues to, moving forward.  We play a part at the Secretary’s direction providing support in the West Bank, as you’ve noted.  None of the agreements that were signed last week endanger at this point that support right now, but we will be looking very carefully to see how this transpires, coordinating our efforts.  And I’ll just say I was with Secretary Kerry in Bethlehem a few months ago when we launched a high-impact infrastructure initiative in the West Bank.  And I think the American people should take some pride in the fact that our assistance in the region helps to maintain stability and create some opportunities for dialogue and negotiation.  But the Secretary of course went into this in much more detail yesterday [in the Senate hearing] and I’ll defer to his comments.”  

4/9: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing entitled, “U.S. Policy Toward Morocco.”  Witnesses were Bill Roebuck, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and Maghreb Affairs (statement), and Alina Romanowski, Deputy Assistant USAID Administrator, Middle East Bureau (statement).  Video of the hearing is available here.

4/8:  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing entitled “National Security and Foreign Policy Priorities in the FY15 International Affairs Budget”.  The witness was Secretary of State Kerry, whose prepared testimony is available here.  A video of the hearing is available here.  The hearing received extensive press coverage, including: CNN; National Journal; Al-Monitor; New York Times; ABC News; Reuters;    With respect to the Middle East, the hearing was notable for the substance, including Kerry’s comments on the crisis in the Middle East peace process and repeated challenges and questions from Senators from both parties regarding the Administration’s policies on Iran and Syria.  The hearing was also notable for its tone, which was unusually partisan and combative (for the Senate), with some Senators – in particular McCain (R-AZ) – appearing less interested in questioning Kerry and more interested in using the hearing to attack, mock, and belittle the Administration.   Some of the most widely-reported substance from the hearing related to comments made by Kerry (in response to a question from Sen. Cardin, D-MD) regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.  These comments were portrayed in much of the media as blaming Israel for the crisis in Israeli-Palestinian talks.  The exchange starts at around 01:17:43 in the hearing video; Kerry’s comments  are included here, in full:

“…both sides, whether advertently or inadvertently wound up in positions where things happened that were unhelpful.  Clearly, [the Palestinians] going to these treaties [at the UN] is not helpful, and we have made that crystal clear.  And we need both sides to find a way to create the level of compromise necessary to do what they both say they want to do, which is continue the talks, because they both view it as important to the future. 

“Now, the irony, bitter irony, is that at this particular moment, this fight is over process, it's not over the substance of the final status agreement, it's over how do you get to the discussion of the final status agreement.  So our hope is that we can work a way through this, but in the end the parties are going to have to make that decision – it's not our decision.  You know, we can cajole, we can leverage, we can offer one thing or another to try to be helpful.  They have to make the fundamental decision and…in my judgment, both leaders have made courageous and important decisions up until now. 

“You know, for Prime Minister Netanyahu to release prisoners is a painful, difficult political step to take – enormously hard.  And the people of Israel have been incredibly supportive and patient in giving him the space to be able to do that in exchange for the deal being kept of the release of prisoners and not going to the U.N.  Unfortunately, the prisoners weren't released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released, and…so a day went by, day two went by, day three went by.  And then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem.  And poof, that was sort of the moment. 

“So, we find ourselves where we are.  My hope is the parties will find a way back.  We're working with them to try to do so.  But they have to, again, I repeat, they have to, make that fundamental decision. And I hope they will.  I believe if they do, there is a way to get into substantive discussions now.  A lot of groundwork has been laid over the last eight months.  We don't talk about it publicly, I'm not going to go into the details here, but there has been a narrowing of differences.”   

4/8: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing entitled, “Lebanon’s Security Challenges and U.S. Interests.”  Witnesses were: Larry Silverman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (statement); and Matt Spence, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy (statement).  Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) opening statement here. Video of the hearing is available here.

4/8: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade held a hearing entitled “Is al-Qaeda Winning? Grading the Administration's Counterterrorism Policy.”  Panel I witnesses were former Senator Joe Lieberman (statement) and former House member and Director/President/CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Jane Harman (statement).   Panel II witnesses were Seth Jones, RAND (statement); Frederick Kagan, AEI (statement); and Benjamin Wittes, Brookings (statement).  Video of the hearing is available here.

4.  Members on the Record

Poe (R-TX) 4/10: Press release applauding Israel’s decision to withold funds from the Palestinian Authority
Cardin (D-MD) 4/10: Statement regarding ongoing war crimes in Syria
McCain (R-AZ) 4/10: Impassioned statement on the 20th anniversary of Rwandan Genocide: “I remind my colleagues and fellow citizens of the humanity we share and appeal to their conscience about the mass atrocities the Assad regime is perpetrating in Syria”
Markey (D-MA) 4/10: On the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide
Holding (R-PA) 4/10: At Easter, recalling the persecution of Christians in Iran & Egypt
Royce (R-CA) 4/9: Chairman Royce Statement on the Terrorist Designation of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis
Schiff (D-CA) 4/9: “A Letter to the Turkish People” on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide
Risch (R-ID) 4/8: Risch Demands Sec. Kerry Do More to Free Abedini [during 4/8 SFRC hearing]
Gohmert (R-TX) and Lamborn (R-CO) 4/7: Floor colloquy in support of blocking new Iranian ambassador to the UN; includes another Gohmert screed that, among other things, bashed the Obama Administration for not keeping Qaddafi in power (“it seems pretty clear, without the United States' assistance, Qadhafi would have stayed in power. We would still be getting information on terrorism in the Middle East from Qadhafi and his people.  We would have four people that didn't die in Benghazi, and terrorism wouldn't be so profoundly manifesting itself in north Africa and the Middle East, but this administration turned on someone who had turned into a friend to the United States, an enemy of terrorism”) and for the ongoing Iran diplomacy (“So what have we done? We gave them a free space in which to keep developing nukes. We don't know what they have been doing behind the scenes because there have not even been inspections in all the facilities that we know of, and they brag that they are not abandoning anything”).
Kaine (D-VA) 4/7: Press release - Senate Unanimously Approves Kaine, Rubio Syria Resolution
Collins (R-GA) 4/4: Opposing U.S. aid that could go to Palestinian prisoners (and asserting, incorrectly, that Fatah is a U.S. designated terrorist organization – it is not).
Wolf (R-VA) 4/4: In solidarity with the people of Kassab, Syria
Gohmert (R-TX) 4/4: Rambling floor statement in which among other things he attacks CAIR and Linda Sarsour.
Isakson (R-GA) 4/4: Opposing new Iranian ambassador to the UN
Graham (R-SC) 4/4: Opposing new Iranian ambassador to the UN

5.  Odds & Ends

Arutz Sheva 4/8: Congressman 'Shocked' by anti-Jewish Measures on Temple Mount
JP Updates 4/8: Two US Congressmen Tour Israel, Shocked At How Anti-Jewish Temple Mount Is<
Arutz Sheva 4/6: US Lawmakers Call for Increase in Missile Defense Aid to Israel