To return to the new Peace Now website click here.

APN's Top 10 Wackiest Congressional Actions on the Middle East of 2011

top_ten186x140.jpgAnyone who reads the Round-Up knows that Congress gets up to a lot of wacky stuff when it comes to the Middle East.  Below is a subjective list of the top ten outstanding examples of this.  Enjoy!

(10) Trying to kill the waiver in the Jerusalem Embassy Act. 

For years Congress, no matter how much it felt like sticking it to the Palestinians, still seemed to recognize that its ultimate responsibility was to the U.S. and to U.S. interests.  It also seemed to recognize that the President has some authority over foreign policy and national security decision-making.  But not in this Congress - no sir.  That's why over the past year (actually dates back to before the mid-term elections) we've seen repeated efforts by Congress to force the President to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (it's currently in Tel Aviv, consistent with U.S. policy that dates from before 1948).  See, years ago Congress passed a law requiring the president to move the embassy, but included a waiver that lets the president put off doing so for reasons of U.S. interests.  That waiver went virtually unchallenged all these years, until now.  Now, well, it seems that some members of Congress are determined to force Obama to move the embassy, U.S. interests be damned! (References: here, here, here, here and here).
(9) Trying to shut the PLO office in Washington, DC. 

Years ago, when the PLO was on the list of foreign terrorist organizations (it was taken off in 1991) and Congress was determined to stop any president (at the time Reagan) from improving relations with the Palestinians, Congress passed a law barring the PLO from virtually all U.S. operations (Reagan actually declared the provision unconstitutional).  Since then, with peace efforts taking root, with the PLO off the FTO list, etc, Congress gave the President the authority to waive that ban if it was important to U.S. national interests.  Until now.   Now, under law just passed by both houses of Congress, the PLO office will have to be shut down if the Palestinians pursue membership in any UN agency and are not engaged in "direct and meaningful" negotiations with Israel.  U.S. national interests no longer are part of the equation. (References: here, here, and here).
(8) Cutting aid to UNESCO (and potentially other UN agencies), for admitting the Palestinians. 

Congress has thrown up its hands, saying:  We have no choice!  This is the law!  What else can we do?  Apparently Congress is trapped by legislative anachronisms, in the form of legislation that requires the cutting of funds to any UN agency that gives full membership to the PLO.  Legislation that was written when the PLO was still on the FTO list (it has been off since 1991).  Legislation that was written when it was still forbidden to even suggest that one day there might be a Palestinian state.  Faced with pre-existing anti-Palestinian language, this Congress is helpless - because everyone knows that no member of Congress is going to waste political capital actually trying to rescind such legislation, even if it is anachronistic.  Why else is it still on the books in the first place?  And once again, U.S. interests be damned.  (Reference: here). Bonus:  Nonsensical letter by Israel (D-NY) and Cole (R-OK) letter on this issue was just icing on the cake (Reference: here).
(7) Passing massive sanctions on Iran's Central Bank with no debate and no apparent regard for actual U.S. interests. 

We get it - Members of Congress want to show they are tough on Iran.  Even, apparently, if it means undermining all the work the Obama Administration is doing to muster meaningful multilateral pressure on Iran.  Even if it means threatening relations with key allies.  Even if it means doing all of that (and messing with the international banking system) without ever bothering to hold any real hearing or debates over the substance of the sanctions.  Because of course, the substance doesn't really matter - members just have to get on the record sounding tough! Seriously - there can be an honest disagreement over whether these sanctions are a good or a bad idea.  But don't lawmakers have an obligation to actually hold hearings, hear the various arguments from experts (not just lobbyists) engage in real, open debate, and only THEN vote on something this important?  Apparently this Congress thinks the answer is: nope.  (References: here and here).
(6) Blocking aid to U.S. NGOs for programs in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Yep, this is hot to show how mad we are at the Palestinian Authority and how serious we are about exacting retribution.  We'll release funds to keep the PA afloat (because if it collapses, it will be Israel that will bear the brunt and have to provide services to Palestinians still living under Israeli occupation).  We'll release funds to keep the PA's security cooperation with Israel going, because as everyone knows, this cooperation is really for Israel's benefit anyway.  But we're going to block funds that directly help the Palestinian people (funds that go, for example, for health, education and infrastructure projects, building civil society capacity, etc).  That's how we show we're tough.  And that's how we make the PA look like a quisling entity and undermine the only real "soft power" we have left with the Palestinian people.  The groups that have been doing important and good work on the ground for decades - building good feelings for the U.S. and the American people and directly improving lives -- screw them, they can shut down.  Because we have to do something to punish the Palestinians for their "diplomatic terrorism" at the UN, but we can't risk this punishment backfiring and hurting Israel.  So it's the Palestinian people who pay price. (References: here and here).
(5) Threatening US-Turkey relations to punish Turkey for its treatment of Israel. 

Because that'll show Erodgan and his goons (U.S. interests be damned). (References: here and here).
(4) Trying to outlaw diplomacy with Iran. 

Nobody wants war, but increasingly it seems like Congress doesn't really not want it, either... (References: here and here).
(3) Trying to outlaw the export of civilian aircraft parts to Iran. 

Congress has already agreed that if the government of Iran won't do what we want, then Iranians should suffer in every possible way in order to motivate them to either force their government to change course or to overthrow it (and of course install a pro-Western democracy in its place - otherwise we're just back where we started).  So, consistent with this logic, why should Congress balk at passing legislation whose explicit purpose is to ensure that civilian aviation inside Iran will become even more dangerous than it already is (due to years of sanctions, Iranian civilian aircraft have a nasty habit of falling from the sky and hitting the ground in fiery and deadly crashes).  No worries - members of Congress will tell you.  When an Iranian finds out that their father or mother or sister or brother has died in such a crash, we can rest assured that said Iranian will curse his/her own government for pissing off the U.S., as opposed to cursing the U.S. for being so callous as to use civilians as bargaining chips in this game of collective punishment.  Of course, even if it worked out that way (and that's doubtful), said innocent father/mother/sister/brother is still just as dead. (References: here and here).
(2) Introducing wacky bills & resolutions: 
  • Rep. Walsh (R-IL) introduced a resolution supporting Israel annexing the West Bank (here)
  • Rep. Walsh (R-IL) introduced seeking to outlaw word "Palestine" and U.S. aid to Palestinians and UNRWA (here and here)
  • Gohmert (R-TX) introduced a resolution rallying members to support Israel attacking Iran (here) and later lobbied members to pass it (here)
  • Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) pushed to make all U.S. funding to the UN funding depending almost 100% on how Israel is treated in the UN (here)
  •  Lieberman (R-, I mean I-CT) and Hatch (R-UT) introduced a resolution seeking to make it U.S. policy that Israel not return to the 1967 lines -- 32 Republican senators cosponsored (actually 30, plus Ben Nelson, D-NE, and Wyden, D-OR - no idea why they decided to sign on) in this brave effort to oppose something OBAMA NEVER SAID. (References: here and here).
(1) Then-Congressman Weiner (D-NY) insisting in a public debate that the West Bank is not occupied and that there is no IDF presence there at all (seriously).

It's way too easy to say something politically incorrect here, so we'll just let this one stand on its own. (Reference: here).