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Legislative Round-up: Week Ending May 20, 2011

1. Bills and Resolutions
2. Members of Congress React To (and Re-Write) Obama Speech
3. Berkley-Engel Letter
4. APN Applauds Israel-Palestinian Vision in Obama's Middle East Speech
5. Additional Observations on the Very Positive Elements (and Omissions) in the Obama Speech
6. APN Slams Netanyahu for Using Settlements - Again - to Undermine Peace
7. Odds and Ends

Note: The House was not in session this week.

1.  Bills & Resolutions

(Palestinian-bashing) S. Res. 185:  Introduced 5/16/11 by Sens. Cardin (D-MD) and Collins (R-ME) and three other senators, "A resolution reaffirming the commitment of the United States to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, reaffirming opposition to the inclusion of Hamas in a unity government unless it is willing to accept peace with Israel and renounce violence, and declaring that Palestinian efforts to gain recognition of a state outside direct negotiations demonstrates absence of a good faith commitment to peace negotiations, and will have implications for continued United States aid."  Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.  NOTE: This resolution is expected to be one of the main focal points of AIPAC lobbying on the Hill next week.  APN strongly opposes this resolution and will be sending a message to every member of Congress next week explaining why we believe they should refuse to cosponsor or vote for it.

(Palestinian-bashing) H. Res. 268: Introduced 5/13/11 by Reps. Cantor (R-VA) and Hoyer (D-MD), "Reaffirming the United States' commitment to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and for other purposes."  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  NOTE: This resolution is expected to be one of the main focal points of AIPAC lobbying on the Hill next week.  APN strongly opposes this resolution and will be sending a message to every member of Congress next week explaining why we believe they should refuse to cosponsor or vote for it.  For more on the resolution, see last week's (updated) edition of the Round-Up.


(IRAN Sanctions) HR 1905: Introduced 5/13/11 and currently having 7 cosponsors, "To strengthen Iran sanctions laws for the purpose of compelling Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and other threatening activities, and for other purposes."   Referred to the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Oversight and Government Reform, the Judiciary, and Ways and Means.  NOTE: This resolution is expected to be one of the main focal points of AIPAC lobbying on the Hill next week.  For more on this bill, see:


Ros-Lehtinen Press Release: Ros-Lehtinen Introduces New Iran Sanctions Legislation to Close Loopholes, Mandate Enforcement

NIAC 5/19/11: House Unveils Bill to Expand Sanctions, Impose Oil Embargo on Iran

Arms Control Now 5/19/11: Controversial Waiver Provisions in the New Iran Sanctions Bill

(EGYPT/TUNISIA SUPPORT) S. 618:  Introduced 3/17/11 by Sen. Kerry (D-MA) and having 4 cosponsors, "A bill to promote the strengthening of the private sector in Egypt and Tunisia."  On 5/17/11, ordered to be reported out of committee with an amendment in the nature of a substitute.

(CONFIRMATIONS)  On 5/17/11, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee favorably reported out of committee a number of measures, including the nominations of Dan Shapiro as Ambassador to Israel; Stu Jones as Ambassador to Jordan, Henry Ensher as Ambassador to Algeria; and Mara Rudman as Assistant Administrator of USAID.)

2.  Members of Congress React To (and Re-Write) Obama Speech

The reaction to President Obama's 5/19/11 Middle East speech has been predictable, in terms of Republicans in Congress suggesting that the speech proves Obama is weak on Israel.  More interesting, but perhaps no less predictable, particularly given the timing of the speech, has been the reaction of top Democrats, some of whom, in their embrace of the President's words, have engaged in some revisionism - in effect saying they agree with the President in taking positions he didn't take, or appearing to "clarify" on the president's behalf the meaning behind the speech.


Most notable of such statements were those of Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and House Committee on Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA), both of whom clearly wanted very much to come out supporting the president, but in order to do so felt they needed to get on the record tweaking/correcting the President's words.



"...The United States is committed to seeing the peace process move forward, and we will work with parties who want peace. That does not include Hamas, since they are unwilling to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, or accept prior agreements [not in the President's speech]. I also agree with the President that unilateral actions are not helpful in advancing the peace process [Obama did not say this]. A unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinians would be extremely damaging to that process [Obama did not refer to this at all]. The President discussed a number of other issues, including a return to the borders of 1967 [the President said "1967 lines," not "borders"] with agreed-upon land swaps. We must keep in mind that the situation on the ground has clearly changed over the last 44 years. Whatever peace agreement is reached must recognize the reality on the ground [this last part is Hoyer in effect taking the position of the 2004 Bush letter, which Obama did not do]."



"The peace process dimension of the speech puts the ball squarely in the Palestinian court [Obama stated "Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action."]. The Palestinians must resolve their Hamas problem once and for all: either jettison Hamas or do the seemingly impossible and change them into a respectable, anti-violence organization that recognizes Israel and accepts all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements as the basis for going forward [not stated in the Obama speech].  The Palestinians must show they're serious about peace-making. That means no games at the UN, no partnership with terrorists, no threats to take Israel to the International Criminal Court, and no boycott of negotiations. When the current phase of Palestinian posturing ends, we can begin to address some of the serious issues the President and others have raised. That is my major take away from the President's speech [despite the fact that Obama did not actually say any of this]..."


3.  Berkley-Engel Letter


As noted in last week's Round-Up, late on 5/6/11 the office of Rep. Berkley (D-NV) circulated the following Dear Colleague letter seeking co-signers on a letter to President Obama, urging the president to "suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority unless and until the PA and its ministers can be certified to recognize Israel's right to exist, accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, and renounce terrorism."


According to Hill sources, as of mid-day on 5/19/11 the letter had a total of only 16 signers (it is not known how widely it was circulated)  -- Ackerman (D-NY), Berkley (D-NV), Burton (R-IN), Connolly (D-VA), Engel (D-NY), Green (D-TX), Israel (D-NY), King (R-NY), Maloney (D-NY), Myrick (R-NC), Nadler (D-NY), Peters (D-MI), Poe (R-TX), Rothman (D-NJ), Schwartz (D-PA), and Sires (D-NJ).  The letter was reportedly due to close at noon on 5/20/11.


4.  APN Applauds Israel-Palestinian Vision in Obama's Middle East Speech


On 5/19/11 APN posted the following response to Obama's speech:


Responding to President Obama's Middle East speech, APN President and CEO Debra DeLee said:


"Today, President Obama signaled to the world that he is still serious about Israeli-Palestinian peace and that he is a true friend of Israel. We welcome his clear statement that the U.S. position is that a permanent status peace agreement will be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed on land swaps, and that the outcome must be secure and recognized borders, with a sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state and robust security arrangements for Israel. We also welcome his statement that such an agreement must find a way to resolve the issues of Jerusalem and refugees that is just and fair and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.


"What derives from these positions is clear. Palestinian leaders must come to terms with the fact that a future agreement will involve adjustments to the 1967 lines to accommodate some settlements - and educate their people to understand why this is so. They must also accept the fact that a future state will be demilitarized and that arrangements ensuring Israeli security will be paramount.

"At the same time, the Netanyahu government must accept that Israel's appetite for settlements must be balanced, inch for inch, against its readiness to give up territory that is inside what is now sovereign Israel. This applies not only in the West Bank but also in East Jerusalem, where Netanyahu's defiant determination to continue to expand settlements continues to send a message that he cares more about settlements than peace. Moreover, President Obama's clear statement that a Palestinian state must be contiguous and have recognized borders with Jordan underscores the impossibility of Israel maintaining permanent control over the Jordan Valley.

"We also welcome President Obama's pragmatic articulation of his approach to Palestinian efforts to establish a unity government. It is indeed incumbent on the Palestinians to provide a credible answer to those who suggest that Israel cannot negotiate peace with a unity government. As we have long argued, any Palestinian government should be judged by its actions and positions, not it composition.

"By articulating these positions, President Obama demonstrated that he is a real friend to Israel - one who recognizes that Israel's security and viability as a Jewish state and a democracy depends on peace. He has also made clear his understanding that Israel's future cannot be divorced from the fate of the Palestinians or from its relations with the rest of the region. We welcome President Obama's message of support for freedom, rights, security, and democracy in the Middle East - a Middle East that include both Israelis and Palestinians.

"We now call on President Obama to follow these words with concrete actions to make his vision of peace a reality. We also call on the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to rise to the challenge in the President's words and demonstrate to each other and the world that they are ready to rise above pettiness, set aside grievances, and work to finally end the conflict. We know that most American Jews support President Obama in this effort. We call on leaders of AIPAC, who are hosting their major conference in Washington in a few days, to convey this support."


5.  Additional Observations on the Very Positive Elements (& Omissions) in the Obama Speech


On 5/20/11 APN posted this additional analysis of President Obama's speech:


Many people are still busily parsing the text of yesterday's Obama speech to determine what they like - or don't like - about what he said. APN has already put out analysis of the things in the speech that we believe are important and constructive. Having had more time now to parse the speech, it is worth adding two more points to this analysis.


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still a priority for Obama: Given that the focus of this speech was billed as the changes in the Middle East and North Africa, many predicted that the President would say little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They were proven wrong. Fully 20% of the speech was devoted to the issue, making clear that President Obama recognizes the importance of the issue.

Linkage is U.S. policy: With this speech President Obama has made clear that he sees a direct connection between the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace and what goes on in the region. In rejecting the "there is no linkage" orthodoxy, Obama is agreeing with many of his top advisors (see here, here, and here). President Obama's decision to devote 20% of a speech to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict clearly reflected a recognition of the fact that for peoples in the Middle East and North Africa, what he has to say on this issue is at least as important to them as what he has to say about all the other issues. Moreover, the "around-the-region-tour" in Obama's speech ended up on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - reflecting the clear logic that the regional developments and the conflict cannot be de-linked. President Obama made this explicit, noting that "For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region." He went on to note that "this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people."

In addition to the important - and positive - things the president said, the speech contained some significant - and very positive - omissions.

Borders/Settlements: President Obama did not adopt the Bush formula (as expressed in Bush's 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) on borders and settlements - much to the dismay of many pundits on the right (like the RJC).

Why do they care, given that both Bush and Obama talked about an agreement based on 1967 lines with land swaps? Because in the Bush formulation, the starting point was the implicit adoption of a hard-line Israeli position - that Israel will retain control of "already existing major Israeli populations," more commonly known as "settlement blocs." Bush's formula suggested that the results of negotiations - with respect to how much and what land Israel would keep - were a foregone conclusion; the only thing left to negotiate were the land swaps that the Palestinians would be forced to accept in return.

In contrast, Obama's formulation did not present the outcome of negotiations, for either side, as a foregone conclusion. He simply laid out a principle. From this principle it follows that Israel and the Palestinians will have to negotiate changes in the 1967 lines (which include East Jerusalem), on the basis of mutually agreed on land swaps. The outcome of such negotiations remains unknown, and both sides - not just the Palestinians - will have to make hard choices.

Some observers (like Haaretz's Aluf Benn) noted another settlement-related omission in the speech: Obama didn't explicitly re-articulate the view that settlements are illegitimate. But Obama likewise said nothing to imply any change in the U.S. policy opposing settlements, and his one reference to settlements was telling: he juxtaposed "Israeli settlement activity continues" with the observation that "Palestinians have walked away from talks," in a clear criticism of both (and implying a causal relationship between the two). Taken together with the president's clear articulation of U.S. policy on borders and land swaps, and non-embrace of the Bush formula, the result is a much stronger, not weaker, U.S. position opposing settlements construction.

Unity Government: Getting the Obama Administration to make it unequivocal U.S. policy to boycott, sanction, and refuse to in any way deal with any Palestinian power-sharing government that includes Hamas, unless and until Hamas meets the Quartet Conditions, is a top priority of some on the American Jewish right. Likewise, they want Obama to suspend all aid to the Palestinians immediately (ostensibly until we see what will come out of this unity government effort, but more likely to punish the Palestinians for engaging in this unity effort in the first place).*

President Obama pointedly didn't adopt any of these positions in his speech. What he said was: "How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question..." This statement, like the actual law (which states that the unity government and its ministers - not the Hamas party - have to meet the Quartet conditions), represents a far more measured, pragmatic approach.

Palestinian Recognition: Getting the Obama Administration to state unequivocally that it is U.S. policy to oppose Palestinian efforts to gain recognition from countries around the world and at the United Nations in September 2011 - and to declare that the U.S. will impose harsh consequences on the Palestinians if they continue down this road - is another top priority of some on the American Jewish right. Likewise, they want President Obama to commit to twisting the arms of other members of the international community to get them to toe this American line and they want him to publicly commit, in advance, to vetoing any UN action in September on this matter.

Here, again, all of their wishes went unfulfilled. President Obama did touch on the issue of action at the UN, observing simply that "symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state" (a statement that will anger both those who consider UN action a potential positive game-changer and those who consider it a huge threat to Israel). This is a far cry from threatening the Palestinians with consequences for their current efforts, demonizing them for this effort, calling on the international community to toe a specific U.S. line, or promising a U.S. veto.


*We know this because we have seen these things demanded in Congressional letters (supported by groups like AIPAC), in congressional resolutions (here and here, that will be heavily lobbied by AIPAC), and in policy statements (issued by groups like AIPAC).


6. APN Slams Netanyahu for Using Settlements - Again - to Undermine Peace


On 5/19/11 APN issued the following statement:


Responding to news that an Israeli Ministry of Interior committee - acting with the authorization of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - will today consider approving the construction of more than 1500 new settlement units in East Jerusalem, APN President and CEO Debra DeLee issued the following statement:


"By proceeding with settlement approvals in East Jerusalem today - precisely when Prime Minister Netanyahu is headed to Washington to meet with President Obama and address Congress, and when President Obama is about to make a major Middle East speech - Netanyahu is sending an unmistakable message: he values settlements more than peace.


"He is also telling the world, including Israelis, that he is content with a future in which Israel is an ever-more isolated garrison state, whose democracy and whose character as a Jewish state is eroded and eventually destroyed, by its preference for settlements over peace.

"Israelis and Americans alike who care about Israel's future should be outraged. "They should also be embarrassed to see an Israeli leader acting so cavalierly and disrespectfully toward any U.S. president. Despite the Netanyahu government's repeated actions to foil his efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace, President Obama has been exceptionally supportive of Israel by every measure.

"Inexplicably, it seems that Netanyahu can't miss an opportunity to embarrass the president of the country that is Israel's best friend and closest ally. If this had only happened once, one could give Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt that it was not deliberate. But this has happened in the context of virtually every high-level U.S.-Israel meeting since Netanyahu took office.

"President Obama is about to deliver a major speech about the Middle East. Speculation is running high over what he will say about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Now, as he puts the finishing touches on that speech, President Obama must bear in mind this latest provocation.

"Israel needs an American president who can be a true friend to Israel, not only defending its security but also leading, credibly and resolutely, for peace. With his action today, Netanyahu is directly challenging President Obama to show such leadership."


7.  Odds & Ends


Politico 5/18/11:  AIPAC: Don't boo Obama



Don't forget to check the APN blog for breaking news and analysis about issues related to Israel, the Middle East, and the Hill.



Past editions of the Round-Up are archived and available online at:


Americans for Peace Now promotes Israeli security through the peace process and supports the Israeli Peace Now movement.   For more information, visit the APN web site at or contact Lara Friedman, APN Director of Policy and Government Relations, at 202/728-1893, or at