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APN Legislative Round-Up - June 5, 2009

1. Bills and Resolutions; 2. Update on FY09 Supplemental Appropriations Bill; 3. Congress and the Obama Middle East agenda

...for the week ending June 5, 2009

1.  Bills and Resolutions
2.  Update on FY09 Supplemental Appropriations Bill
3.  Congress and the Obama
Middle East agenda




(Israeli-Palestinian coexistence)  H. Res. 511: Introduced 6/4/09 by Rep. Moran (D-VA) and 14 cosponsors, "Commending efforts to teach the history of both Israelis and Palestinians to students in Israel and the West Bank in order to foster mutual understanding, respect, and tolerance." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  APN strongly supports this constructive and timely resolution.


Statement by Rep. Moran regarding the introduction of H. Res. 511 (extension of remarks
6/4/09 ):


"Madam Speaker, at a time when there is intense division between Israelis and Palestinians, it is vital that the historical perspectives of both people be taught to both sides. While forces and events pull people in the
Middle East away from each other, dedicated teachers in Israel and the West Bank are helping their students to confront their apprehensions and prejudices through better understanding of the 'other.'  By teaching Palestinians about the Holocaust and Israeli-Jews about the Palestinian perspective of the 1948 war, the children in the region will hopefully grow to understand better, and fear less, those with whom they share the Holy Land . It is those kinds of initiatives that exemplify the small steps needed to be taken on the long road to peace. Let us recognize them and encourage others to do the same. Thank you."


(US-IRAN)  H. Con. Res. 94: Introduced 4/2/09 by Reps. Conyers (D-MI), Davis (R-KY) and Taylor (D-MS), "Encouraging the negotiation of an "Incidents at Sea Agreement" between the United States of America and the Government of Iran."   Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  APN strongly supports this timely and constructive legislation.  On 6/3/09 , Reps. Davis and Conyers spoke on the House floor in support of the resolution:


Davis (R-KY):  "Madam Speaker, as a former enlisted soldier and Army officer, the lives and safety of our servicemen and -women has always been one of my top priorities. Chairman Conyers and I are, therefore, calling for the prompt negotiation of a bilateral naval agreement between the
United States and Iran .  In January of 2008, Iranian Revolutionary Guards naval speedboats engaged in provocative actions against three U.S. naval vessels, showed little to no regard for maritime safety, and the event very nearly escalated into an armed conflict between the United States and Iranian vessels.
Strait of Hormuz is one of the most crowded shipping lanes in the world. A conflict in the strait would have dire consequences for the world's oil supply and the international economy. An average of 15 tankers carrying between 16 and 17 million barrels of crude oil pass through the strait each day, making these waters one of the most strategically important oil choke points. The Department of Defense has stressed the importance of preventing future naval interactions in the region from escalating. The U.S. has a significant long-standing naval presence in the Persian Gulf , protecting our soldiers and marines in theater and international shipping lanes critical to global commerce. A military-to-military negotiation of bilateral ``Incidents at Sea'' agreement between the U.S. and Iran would codify vessel-to-vessel communications and improve safety, similar to the agreement during the Cold War.  I ask you to join Chairman Conyers and me in support of this agreement."


Conyers (D-MI):  "Madam Speaker, I, along with Geoff Davis and others -- Bob Filner, Gene Taylor, Walter Jones -are putting forward House Concurrent Resolution 94 so that we can avoid the incidents of the sea that could happen in the Straits of Hormuz because of the incredible number of commercial ships that traffic that area. Eight Navy ships, 250 oil tankers and naval craft of a dozen other nations pass through the strait. These negotiations have been done before. We did it with the
Soviet Union a generation ago. It's very pragmatic. It avoids any incidents which could start a war, and could change our relationship with the oil cartels. I urge Members to give it consideration."


2.  Update on FY09 Supplemental Appropriations Bill


The conference version of the FY09 Supplemental Appropriations bill (HR 2346) is scheduled to be on the floor today.  Analysis of the Middle East elements of this version of the bill (the compromise version worked out between the House and Senate) will be included in next week's Round-Up.

3.  Congress and the Obama midDLE east agenda


The following analysis of the current state-of-play on the Hill was posted yesterday on APN 's blog (for anyone who wants to get such postings on an as-published basis, feel free to follow me on Twitter at Lara_ APN ).


Ackerman and Frank Support Obama on Settlements
June 4, 2009 , posted by Lara Friedman


With the pro-settler spin machine running at full power trying to make the case that support in Congress for Obama's Middle East policies is beginning to crumble, members of Congress are pushing back.


On the heels of this morning's historic Obama speech in Cairo,  Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) - the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia - issued a statement this afternoon entitled "ACKERMAN URGES FREEZE ON SETTLEMENT CONSTRUCTION, NOT GROWING FAMILIES." (the text is not yet available online, so the document is copied at the end of this post).


The genesis of this statement is reports in the Jewish press last week that seemed to imply that Chairman Ackerman was endorsing so-called "natural growth" of settlements, and was thus breaking publicly with President Obama's demand for a settlement freeze that includes "natural growth."  Earlier this week, an article in the Capitol Hill newspaper "Politico" used apparent Ackerman quotes to bolster its highly questionable thesis that even Democrats in Congress are urging Obama to "back off" on the settlement issue.


Well, whatever the Jewish press and Politico thought (or hoped) Ackerman's views might be, today's statement is clear:  Chairman Ackerman is not saying families shouldn't grow, or that people should not have babies, but he is saying that settlement construction must stop, period.  This is the view that the Chairman, clearly and unequivocally, has articulated today.  It is a welcome and important clarification from Chairman Ackerman.


This is the second time this week that a key member of Congress has spoken out publicly in support of the Obama Administration's Middle East efforts.  On Tuesday, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) sent a letter to President Obama (a letter circulated widely) explaining that he had refrained from signing an AIPAC-backed letter regarding Middle East peace "principles" because he strongly objected to the part of the letter that stated that any disagreements between the US and Israel should be dealt with privately.  In his own letter Frank states:


".it is inevitable that in any relationship there will be legitimate disagreements.  In the case of the United States and Israel , fortunately, these are not disagreements about goals, but rather the best methods to achieve them. Given the fact that we are both democracies where public policy should ultimately set with the support of the people in each country, it would be a mistake to refuse to discuss important differences on how to achieve our mutual goals in a way that the electorates in both countries could understand.


".I believe it is very important for the Israeli public to know that there is strong disagreement within the United States - not just within our government - over exactly how to deal with the question of settlements in the West Bank. My view, as a strong supporter of Israel 's right to remain a secure, democratic Jewish state is that the one area of vulnerability for Israel in terms of American support is in the area of settlements. Just as I believe the American public should know what the Israeli government thinks about our approach to Iran , I think it would be a denial of an important principle of democracy for the Israeli electorate not to know what the state of American opinion is regarding the settlements."


(hat tip to the JTA blog for posting the entire text of the letter, which is as-yet not on Rep. Frank's website.)




Full text of Ackerman statement (link will be added as soon as it is available)



( Washington, DC ) - U.S. Representative Gary L. Ackerman, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia , issued the following statement today on the subject of U.S.-Israel discussions on the subject of Israeli settlement activity:


"The most important thing to remember with all the talk right now about settlements is the strategic threat from Iran . It is the overarching threat to the region and to the interests of the United States . The most worrisome settlement is not in the West Bank and it's not even Israeli: it's the Iranian settlement in Gaza .


To bring together the kind of unified international pressure that stands a chance of pushing Iran to back down from its nuclear ambitions and its subversive activity, the United States needs to demonstrate it is capable of resolving conflict and providing regional security. And for the states in the Middle East , that means normalizing relations with Israel and the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It means statehood for the Palestinians and it means, at long last, real peace and real security for Israel .


The priority has to be on stopping Iran . And all terrorism.  Whatever detracts from that goal has to be subordinated.


The growth of Israeli settlements, unfortunately, detracts from the goal. Palestinian violence destroys the goal.  Stopping settlement construction won't turn off a single Iranian centrifuge, it's true. But it will demonstrate that the United States is driving the political agenda in the region and is serious about peace. That fact will help shore up the moderate Arab states-some of whom are weak, some of whom have been wavering-reinforce American leadership with our allies in Europe , and give hope to both Israelis and Palestinians that peace, not merely a peace process is in the offing.


I do not believe in, and I do not support a settlement freeze that calls on Israeli families not to grow, get married, or forces them to throw away their grandparents. Telling people not to have children is unthinkable and inhumane. Real life is messy and the exigencies of any vibrant population need to be acknowledged and accommodated.


The real question is expanding, construction and building. I think it's fair to say that the big blocks of settlements will probably wind up in Israel . But this question, like the other questions related to a final peace agreement, has to be resolved in negotiations between the parties. A freeze on settlement construction-not family life-will set the stage for those negotiations to begin in earnest.


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