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APN Corrects the Record on the AIPAC "FAQs" Regarding HR 4681

A review of the AIPAC "FAQs," contrasted with what is actually contained in the text of HR 4681, as approved by the House International Relations Committee on April 6, 2006.

On May 8th and 9th, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) circulated a memo in support of HR 4681 to all House members. Included with this memo is a "FAQs" sheet about the bill, purporting to address concerns Members may have expressed, or may have heard expressed by constituents, about the bill.

Unfortunately, the AIPAC "FAQs" sheet contains a number of serious inaccuracies and misrepresentations about the bill and its potential impact. Below is a review of the AIPAC "FAQs," contrasted with what is actually contained in the text of HR 4681, as approved by the House International Relations Committee on April 6, 2006.



AIPAC "FAQ" #1

Q:
"Isn't Congress rejecting the outcome of the Palestinian elections by passing this legislation?"

A: ".It is perfectly reasonable for Congress to demand that a Hamas-led PA meet the basic requirements of a civilized government by ending terrorism against innocent civilians and renouncing its desire to destroy its neighbor.The bill tells the Hamas-led PA that it must first stop its unacceptable behavior and intransigence before expecting any support from the United States."

The Real Story

HR 4681 includes a laundry list of mandatory reforms and benchmarks that are totally unrelated to Hamas or stopping terror. By including these, the bill undermines the strength of its own anti-terror message, bolsters the view that the U.S. is setting Hamas up to fail (rather than challenge Hamas to change or face the political consequences), and undermines the very moderates the U.S. should be supporting.

The Bill Text

Under HR 4681, a broad range of sanctions would be imposed unless the President certifies that:

(1) no ministry, agency, or instrumentality of the Palestinian Authority is controlled by a foreign terrorist organization and no member of a foreign terrorist organization serves in a senior policy making position in a ministry, agency, or instrumentality of the Palestinian Authority;
(2) the Palestinian Authority has-

(A) publicly acknowledged Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state; and
(B) recommitted itself and is adhering to all previous agreements and understandings by the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority with the Government of the United States, the Government of Israel, and the international community, including agreements and understandings pursuant to the Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (commonly referred to as the 'Road-map'); and

(3) the Palestinian Authority has taken effective steps and made demonstrable progress toward-

(A) completing the process of purging from its security services individuals with ties to terrorism;
(B) dismantling all terrorist infrastructure, confiscating unauthorized weapons, arresting and bringing terrorists to justice, destroying unauthorized arms factories, thwarting and pre-empting terrorist attacks, and fully cooperating with Israel's security services;
(C) halting all anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian Authority-controlled electronic and print media and in schools, mosques, and other institutions it controls, and replacing these materials, including textbooks, with materials that promote tolerance, peace, and coexistence with Israel;
(D) ensuring democracy, the rule of law, and an independent judiciary, and adopting other reforms such as ensuring transparent and accountable governance; and
(E) ensuring the financial transparency and accountability of all government ministries and operations.




AIPAC "FAQ" #2

Q:
"Will the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act create a humanitarian crisis for the Palestinian people?"

A: "Both versions of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act being considered by the House and Senate allow humanitarian assistance to flow unfettered and maintain the President's flexibility to provide indirect non-humanitarian project assistance if he deems it to be in the national security interests of the United States."

The Real Story

HR 4681 would permit the U.S. to provide only very limited humanitarian assistance for the West Bank and Gaza to meet "basic human health needs" (as compared to the Senate version, which permits aid to flow for "basic human needs.") For any other assistance, HR 4681 requires the President to certify not only that the provision of such aid will further the national security interests of the U.S., but that he get Congress to approve such assistance in advance on a case-by-case basis, and that he explain how failure to provide the assistance would conflict with U.S. national security interests. In its comments about HR 4681, the Administration noted that it is "concerned with the 25 day consultation period before the waiver takes effect. Also, the exception for 'basic human health needs' is too narrow and should be broadened to 'basic human needs,' in order for the exception to cover essential aid and services for the Palestinian people, not just those limited to health."

Bill Text

Aid for the West Bank and Gaza is barred unless the certification (discussed in FAQ #1) has been made, except as follows:

(d) EXCEPTIONS.-Subsection (a) shall not apply with respect to the following:

(1) ASSISTANCE TO MEET BASIC HUMAN HEALTH NEEDS.-The provision of food, water, medicine, sanitation services, or other assistance to meet basic human health needs.
(2) OTHER TYPES OF ASSISTANCE.-The provision of any other type of assistance if the President-
(A) determines that the provision of such assistance will further the national security interests of the United States; and
(B) not less than 25 days prior to the obligation of amounts for the provision of such assistance-
(i) consults with the appropriate congressional committees regarding the specific programs, projects, and activities to be carried out using such assistance; and
(ii) submits to the appropriate congressional committees a written memorandum that contains the determination of the President under subparagraph (A) and an explanation of how failure to provide the proposed assistance would be inconsistent with furthering the national security interests of the United States.




AIPAC "FAQ" #3

Q:
"Why do we have to punish the Palestinian people? Didn't they vote to rid the government of corruption and do not support continuing terrorism?"

A:
"The goal of this legislation is not to punish the Palestinian people but to make clear that the United States will not support a Palestinian government seeking the destruction of Israel. Just as the Palestinian people elected Hamas, they have the power to choose different representatives who will pursue goals through negotiations, rather than violent means."

The Real Story

HR 4681 explicitly defines the Palestinian Authority as including the Palestinian Legislative Council, stating, "The term 'Palestinian Authority' means the interim Palestinian administrative organization that governs part of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip (or any successor Palestinian governing entity), including the Palestinian Legislative Council." In doing so, the bill deliberately extends sanctions not only to Hamas members and those working under their authority but, perversely, to all elected members of the PLC, including those who oppose violence, recognize Israel, and support a two-state solution and successfully competed (against Hamas) in free and fair democratic elections. In its comments about the bill, the Administration objected to this targeting of the PLC, requesting that the sanctions be "re-crafted to more suitably apply to only Hamas-controlled elements of the PA, not as it currently does to all members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) including those that are not part of Hamas, the President, and agencies and independent instrumentalities that are not controlled by Hamas but may be viewed as part of the PA."

HR 4681 further undermines Palestinian moderates - both those already elected and those who might stand for office in the future - by omitting a key element of any effective sanctions legislation: a sunset clause. Such a clause would provide a clear political horizon for the Palestinian people and moderates political leaders. A sunset clause is a standard component of any serious sanctions legislation, and was included, for instance, in the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act. The omission of such a clause here is inexplicable and undermines the credibility of the anti-terror, pro-reform message of the bill. In its comments about the bill, the Administration noted its objection to "...the codifying into permanent law the bans on PA and WB/G aid; these should be time-limited."

HR 4681 includes many entirely extraneous provisions that appear designed solely to "punish the Palestinian people" and undermine the status of and U.S. ability to maintain ties with Palestinian moderates. These are:

  • Sweeping UN reform provisions that are completely unrelated to Hamas or the elections. In doing so HR 4681 sends the message that the real goal of the legislation is to punish and humiliate all Palestinians in every possible forum.
  • A provision barring members of the PLC from getting visas to visit the U.S. - an act which targets, perversely, elected members of the PLC who are NOT members of Hamas or any other foreign terrorist organizations (since such individuals are already barred by U.S. law from obtaining visas). This extraneous provision thus punishes the wrong people. In its comments about HR 4681, the Administration objected to this provision, noting that the ban on visas ".remains overbroad in that it applies equally to PA reps that are not affiliated with Hamas, as well as those that are. It does not have exceptions for the office of President Abbas; imposes a burdensome procedure for overcoming the ban in order to issue a waiver that is not consistent with existing, ample authorities under the Immigration and Nationality Act; and presents operational challenges (e.g., existing visas)."
  • Provisions that would restrict the movements of Palestinian officials at the UN and threaten to shut down the operations of the any Palestinian representative missions in the U.S. Since under the terms of its agreements with Israel and the international community, it is the PLO (of which Hamas is not a member), not the PA, which maintains diplomatic relations, this provision therefore targets PLO representatives, rather than members of Hamas or any other terrorist organization. So the effect of this provision would be to cut off dialogue with representatives of the most credible and prestigious Palestinian leadership organization - one which recognizes and has signed agreements with Israel, is not a terrorist organization, and supports a two-state solution and the Road Map.
  • A provision labeling the West Bank and Gaza a "terrorist sanctuary" - an act that sends the message that Congress is targeting not only the PA but the entire Palestinian economy and private sector (since, if the language were viewed as binding by the Administration, it would require, among other things, an export license for any U.S. goods exported to the West Bank and Gaza except for medicine, medical supplies, and certain food exports.) It also sends a chilling signal to private sector investors and the financial services industry.




AIPAC "FAQ" #4

Q:
"Doesn't the legislation tie our hands if Hamas transforms into a legitimate negotiating partner? Shouldn't there be more flexibility in the legislation?"

A: ".The legislation says that if the president can certify that the Hamas-led PA renounces violence, dismantles the terrorist infrastructure, recognizes Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and accepts all previous Israeli-Palestinians agreements relations can be renewed. The legislation does provide flexibility to the administration."

The Real Story

As noted under "FAQ #1," the requirements for lifting sanctions and renewing relations with the PA are far more extensive than this "answer" conveys. Indeed, HR 4681 include performance requirements and benchmarks that are entirely unrelated to the recent victory of Hamas in the elections and which include reforms that Fatah was not able to achieve in more than a decade in power. Important as these reforms may be, neither the U.S. nor Israel has ever considered them a prerequisite for engaging with the Palestinians. Moreover, the PA - under any leadership - will likely be unable to meet these requirements in the short- or medium term, or outside the context of progress towards a peace agreement.


AIPAC "FAQ" #5

Q:
"What will be accomplished by cutting off aid and isolating the Hamas-led PA? Won't this drive the parties further from a negotiated solution?"

A: ".The United States cannot have a 'normal' relationship with the PA - including aid and contacts - so long as minimal conditions are not met.the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act clearly details the reasonable path the Hamas-led PA must take. Until then, cutting off aid and isolating the Hamas-led PA is both a moral and a practical response."

The Real Story

As noted under "FAQ #1," HR 4681 goes well beyond setting out a "reasonable path" the Hamas-led PA must take. Rather, HR 4681 lays out far-reaching demands, many of which are entirely unrelated to issues of the Hamas election or Hamas' behavior.

Moreover, HR 4681 lays out sanctions that go beyond blocking aid and normal contacts with the PA, explicitly extending sanctions to non-Hamas parliamentarians and PLO officials, and placing new hurdles in the way of humanitarian aid projects.

HR 4681 also seeks to make these sanctions permanent U.S. law, so that even if Hamas were defeated tomorrow and replaced by a pro-peace Palestinian Authority that recognized Israel and all previous agreements, until the entire laundry list of reform requirements were met, sanctions would remain in place and "normal" relations between the U.S. and the PA would remain suspended.