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APN Legislative Round-Up - February 13, 2009

...for the week ending February 13, 20091. Bills and Resolutions 2. Ackerman on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Today 1. BILLS AND RESOLUTIONS (UN REFORM) HR 557: Introduced 1/15/09 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and currently having 38 cosponsors, "To promote transparency, accountability, and reform within the United Nations system, and for other purposes." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This bill was mentioned 1/16/09 edition of the Round-Up. At that point the bill text ...
...for the week ending February 13, 2009

1. Bills and Resolutions
2. Ackerman on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Today


1. BILLS AND RESOLUTIONS

(UN REFORM) HR 557: Introduced 1/15/09 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and currently having 38 cosponsors, "To promote transparency, accountability, and reform within the United Nations system, and for other purposes." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This bill was mentioned 1/16/09 edition of the Round-Up. At that point the bill text was not yet available, but it seemed clear that it would include significant Middle East-related provisions, given past experience with similar bills. This predication proved correct. The Middle East provisions of HR 557 are:

Title III - US Policy at the UN

(Sec. 309) Withholding of U.S. Contributions to UNRWA: The bill would require mandatory withholding of U.S. contributions to UNRWA unless the Secretary provides a far-reaching (and practically speaking, impossible to make) certification that nobody associated with, working for, or receiving aid from URNWA is in any way associated with terror, and requiring outside third-party comprehensive audits (a longtime red-herring - even the recent WINEP report on UNRWA made clear that such audits are not a real issue). Tellingly, the lengthy UNRWA section of the bill ends with a Sense of Congress stating, "It is the sense of Congress that, in order to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian refugees, responsibility for those refugees should be fully transferred to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees."

(Sec. 311) UN Bodies focused on the Palestinians: The bill includes another long section requiring an audit of 5 specific UN entities devoted to the Palestinians and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as any other entity "the Secretary determines results in duplicative efforts or fails to ensure balance in the approach to Israeli-Palestinian issues." Based on this audit, the Secretary is required to provide a report to Congress with "recommendations for the elimination of such duplicative entities and efforts." The section requires that, based on this report, the U.S is required to withhold from its regular assessed contributions to the UN annual budget "amounts that are proportional to the percentage of the budget that are expended on such entities."

(Sec. 312) Anti-Semitism [and anti-Israel resolutions] at the UN: This section requires the U.S. to use voice, vote, and influence to ensure the issuance or implementation of a directive by the UN Secretary General or Secretariat requiring all UN employees and employees of UN agencies to officially and publically condemn anti-Semitic statements made in UN-affiliated forum. It also requires that any such employees be subject to punitive action, including immediate dismissal, for making any anti-Semitic statements or references. It also seeks to continued development and implementation of education awareness programs about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, and to require the Office of the United States High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop programs that address anti-Semitism. The final statement in this section, however, goes beyond anti-Semitism, stating that the U.S. shall use voice, vote, and influence to "continue working toward further reduction of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations and its specialized agencies, programs, and funds.

(Sec. 313) Regional Group Inclusion of Israel: This section calls for the U.S. to use voice, vote, and influence to expand the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) in the UN to includes Israel "as a permanent member with full rights and privileges."

Title IV: United Nations Human Rights Council (including withholding of funding)

Sec. 401: Findings About the Human Rights Council: This section lays out the bill's only specific complaint about the UN Human Rights Council: ".during its two and one-half years of operation, the Council has passed 20 resolutions censuring the democratic state of Israel, as compared to only 4 censuring the dictatorship of Burma, just one censuring the North Korean regime, and none condemning the severe, ongoing human rights abuses in Sudan, China, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Belarus, and elsewhere.

Title V: International Atomic Energy Agency

(Sec. 501e): IAEA further restrictions on Iran: This section requires the U.S. to use voice, vote, and influence at the IAEA "to ensure the adoption of a resolution by the IAEA Board of Governors that, in addition to the restrictions already imposed, makes Iran ineligible to receive any nuclear material, technology, equipment, or assistance from any IAEA Member State and ineligible for any IAEA assistance not related to safeguards inspections or nuclear security" until the IAEA determines that Iran is providing full access to IAEA inspectors, and fully implemented and is in compliance with the Additional Protocol, and has "permanently ceased and dismantled all activities and programs related to nuclear-enrichment and reprocessing." The section calls for penalties on any IAEA Member State who violates this prohibition.


2. Ackerman on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Today

On 2/12/09 the House Committee on Foreign Affair's Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia held its first hearing in the 111th Congress. The hearing was entitled "Gaza After the War: What Can Be Built on the Wreckage?" The tone was set for the hearing by a powerful opening statement delivered by Chairman Gary Ackerman (D-NY), copied in full below. The statement includes some of the clearest language in memory of Congressional disapproval for and frustration with Israeli settlers and settlement activities - including references to settlement and outpost growth, settler violence, and the ongoing settler tunneling in and around Jerusalem's Old City.

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"Gaza After the War: What Can Be Built on the Wreckage?" Statement by Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, Chairman, House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia February 12, 2009

I'd like to start with a quote:

"Today, the subcommittee had hoped to examine those realistic and productive measures that the parties, directly and indirectly involved with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might have taken to restore a sense of hope and maybe even make some material progress towards peace. But in light of the [what's occurred]... I'm not sure what's left to discuss.

"Over the past six years there have been many plans and many envoys. And contrary to popular opinion, there hasn't been a deficit of attention, merely a deficit of performance. Commitments made to the United States, or between the parties, have often been honored only in the breach. The timing was never right. What was promised was not delivered. There was always a provocation, an incident, an upcoming election, a crisis, an attack. And so it is again today."

Strike "what's occurred" and insert "Gaza conflict" and these sentences, which I read at this Subcommittee's first hearing in 2007, are, to my dismay, equally applicable today.

It only looks like we're going in circles. In fact, we're spiraling downward. I don't know where the bottom is, but I know its there and I know it's getting closer every day. It will hit with shattering force when, through malice and terror, through shallow calculation and venal self-interest, through short-sightedness and through political cowardice, the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is finally rendered impossible.

The downward pressure comes from terrorism and the march of settlements and outposts, from the firing of rockets and the perpetration of settler pogroms. It comes in daily images of destruction and the constant reiteration that "they only understand the language of force." It comes in the form of a political party that's always just a few months away from reform and in the form of governing coalitions whose chief purpose is avoiding new elections. It comes in the form of promises that bloodshed is what God desires and declarations that dirt and stones mean more than human life. It comes from tunnels in Gaza and from digging in Jerusalem as well. There is no moral equivalence between these acts but they part of the same destructive dynamic.

Since the end of the Clinton Administration, the basic outlines of a peace agreement have been clear. And in fact, in its waning days, the government of Ehud Olmert-like other departing Israeli governments-further closed the gaps and added even more detail. Except now there are three sides. And one of these sides is looking for an outcome very different than the other two. Hamas is the odd-man out. I don't know what to do about that. I don't know how you make peace with half of a want-to-be country. I don't know how you sign an agreement with an entity whose legal, political and administrative bona fides are all in question.

Which brings us to Gaza, where so many of the contradictions in this conflict come into focus. Start with Hamas, a terrorist organization, an entity beyond the pale. They are the enemy and no one can talk to them until they accept the Quartet's conditions of recognizing Israel, repudiating violence, and accepting the PLO's agreements with Israel.

Except that for years, Israel has been talking to Hamas through Egypt, and directly to the Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails. And when the IDF was in Gaza in force, with reserves building up outside, the Israelis announced that the destruction of Hamas was absolutely not their goal. Hamas is a deadly, vicious, implacable enemy, but somehow, one that had to be left in place.

For their part, the Fatah-led PA blasted Israel for the violence while quietly hoping that the IDF would cripple Hamas and pave the way for the PA's return to Gaza. Likewise, the PA has continuously denounced Hamas for the 2007 coup in Gaza and then intermittently engaged in direct talks to form a unity government with it. And even Hamas itself-the great paragon of ideological purity-insists in Arabic that its goal is the complete liberation of Palestine, which is to say, the elimination of the State of Israel, while in English it declares that Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders would be sufficient for a long-term, but not permanent, peace.

The one real bright spot in all the chaos is the work of the U.S. Security Coordinator, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, who without fanfare, and with very little money, has helped stand up a force of several hundred competent and disciplined Palestinian security forces. Trained in Jordan, and deployed successfully to major cities in the West Bank, these mostly young Palestinians have restored law and order in Jenin and Nablus, and are finally starting to put some authority back into the Palestinian Authority, which for years has been leaking the stuff like a bucket with no bottom.

I think we've learned from our own awful experience in Iraq that between politics and security, security has to come first. So what can be made of the new and growing security dynamic in the West Bank, remains to be seen. A lot will depend on whether Israel-in a break from years of habit-can recognize its own self-interest in the success of this Palestinian enterprise. And even if that happens-and I think we really must try hard to help that process along-how developments in the West Bank can be used to reestablish a connection with Gaza is far from clear.

And it is in Gaza that the United States, Israel, the PA and the Arab states have to start coming up with answers. There are pressing humanitarian needs and a reconstruction vacuum that will surely be filled by someone, either for good or ill. Hamas is still in charge there, and, depending on what polls you read and which people you speak to, is either badly damaged or fully in command. The war either alienated them from the public or powerfully reinforced their leadership. Hamas has either suffered a severe blow or has benefitted immensely from merely surviving the Israeli onslaught. The fact that so basic a question can still be in doubt should make all of us a little more circumspect in our assertions and little less confident in our understanding of this conflict.

Fortunately, we have with us today a panel with real expertise in the politics of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, to help us understand where the interests of these parties lie, and what equities they most need to protect in coming to grips with the future of Gaza.

It is our job to start answering these same questions for ourselves. What is it that we want? How can we achieve it? What has worked and what do we have to do differently? What assumptions have we made that haven't been borne out in fact? We can start today by learning from our distinguished witnesses.


For more information, contact Lara Friedman, APN Director of Policy and Government Relations, at 202/728-1893, or at lfriedman@peacenow.org.