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APN Legislative Round-Up Covering October 5-19, 2011


Note to readers: Due to the High Holidays, there was no Round-Up last Friday, and there will be no Round-Up this coming Friday. This Monday edition covers the period since the last Round-Up (published October 4). The Round-Up will resume regular publication next Friday.

1. Bills, Resolutions and Letters
2. U.S. Law, the PLO at the UN, and UNESCO
3. Members on the issues of the day
4. Odds and Ends

1. Bills, Resolutions and Letters

(Gaza flotilla) HR 3131: Introduced 106/11 by Rep. Bilirakis (R-FL), and having 13 cosponsors, a bill "To direct the Secretary of State to submit a report on whether any support organization that participated in the planning or execution of the recent Gaza flotilla attempt should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization and any actions taken by the Department of State to express gratitude to the government of Greece for preventing the Gaza flotilla from setting sail in contravention of Israel's legal blockade of Gaza, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on the Judiciary.

(UN "reform" bill) HR 2829: Introduced by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and having 133 cosponsors. For details see the 9/9/11 edition of the Round-Up. On 10/13/11 the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a mark-up of HR 2829 (webcast). The opening statement of chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen can be read here; The opening statement of ranking member Berman (D-CA) can be read here. Amendments offered by the majority to the bill in committee (and adopted) can be viewed here (an amendment offered by Berman was defeated. The bill, as amended, was passed by party-line vote and reported out of committee, paving the way for consideration on the House floor.

(Iran in the Western Hemisphere) H. Res. 429: Introduced 10/11/11 by Rep. Duncan (R-SC) and having 7 cosponsors, "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Western Hemisphere should be included in the Administration's 2012 National Strategy for Counterterrorism's 'Area of Focus', with specific attention on the counterterrorism threat to the homeland emanating from Iran's growing presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(China/Iran/Syria) Amendment 724 to S. 1619: Offered 10/5/11 by Sen. Kyl (R-AZ), "Prohibition on exportation of dual-use items to the People's Republic of China." The amendment would require that for the export of any item on the Commerce Control list to China, the Secretary of Commerce must certify that "no items on the Commerce Control List that are exported from the United States are transshipped through China to Iran, North Korea, Syria, or any other country of concern with respect to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

(Sanctions on Iran's Central Bank) On 10/11/11, following news of an Iranian plot to commit attacks in Washington, DC, Sens. Kirk (R-IL) and Durbin (D-IL) spoke on the Senate floor in support of sanctions Iran's Central Bank, consistent with a letter led by Senators Kirk and Schumer (D-NY) and circulated in the Senate back in July (for details see the 7/22/11 edition of the Round-Up). On 10/13/11 Kirk spoke again on the Senate floor in favor of imposing these sanctions.

(Additional Iran Sanctions) S. 1048: On 10/12/11, following news of an Iranian plot to commit attacks in Washington, Sen. Menendez (R-FL) spoke on the Senate floor calling for passage of S. 1048, "the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Sanctions Consolidation Act of 2011," introduced by Menendez on 5/23/11 and having 75 cosponsors. For details of the bill (which is the Senate companion to HR 1905) see the 5/27/11 edition of the Round-Up. AIPAC has been strongly lobbying in favor of both S. 1048 and HR 1905 since they were introduced, and the bills were part of the AIPAC "ask" during their May 2011 conference and lobby day.

(Palestinians/UNESCO) Lowey Letter: On 10/5/11, Rep. Lowey (D-NY), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee's Foreign Operations Subcommittee, sent a letter to the Director General of UNESCO urging her to cancel a vote on upgrading the PLO's status in UNESCO. In the letter Lowey notes that she has "fought efforts in Congress to defund the United Nations in recent years because I believe that it has been a positive force for global security and international cooperation" Left unstated but implied is that this belief could change based on UN actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians. See Section 2, below, for details on why this action by UNESCO could endanger U.S. funding to that agency.

(Palestinians/UNESCO) Rothman, et al letter: On 10/7/11 a group of House members, led by Rothman (D-NJ) and compromising all members of the Appropriations Committee's ForOps Subcommittee (except for Wolf, R-VA), sent a letter to the head of UNESCO expressing distress at UNESCO's action to consider upgrading the PLO's status and stating that this action jeopardizes U.S. funding to UNESCO. The letter urges UNESCO to reconsider its action and ensure that the PLO's status is not upgraded. See Section 2, below, for details on why this action by UNESCO could endanger U.S. funding to that agency.

2. U.S. Law, the PLO at the UN, and UNESCO

As noted above, members of Congress have written to UNESCO to let leaders of that organization know that upgrading the status of the PLO will jeopardize U.S. funding to that organization. On 10/5/11, Rep. Granger (R-TX), Chair of the ForOps subcommittee, issued a statement warning UNESCO that upgrading the PLO's status could lead to a cut-off of U.S. funding. Rep. Lowey (D-NY), ranking minority member on the ForOps subcommittee, issued a similar statement on 10/5/11 (not available online as of this writing).

These are not idle threats. Back in the earliest days of the peace process, when Congress was not entirely behind White House efforts related to Madrid (and subsequently Oslo), Congress passed a number of pieces of legislation intended to block normalization of Palestinian relations and activities in the international community. These included the following categorical provision of law - one that does not include authority for the president to waive this prohibition even in the case where vital U.S. national security interests are at stake:

22 USC 287e as amended by PL 101-246

MEMBERSHIP OF THE PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION IN UNITED NATIONS
AGENCIES.

(a) PROHIBITION- No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.

(b) TRANSFER OR REPROGRAMMING- Funds subject to the prohibition contained in subsection (a) which would be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof (but for that prohibition) are authorized to remain available until expended and may be reprogrammed or transferred to any other account of the Department of State or the Agency for International Development to carry out the general purposes for which such funds were authorized.

Some additional points are worth making:

(i) If UNESCO were to upgrade the PLO's status, but not to a point that gave the PLO equal status (in terms of rights/privileges) to member states, 22 USC 287e would not apply.

(ii) Even if UNESCO were to upgrade the PLO's status to the same as a member State, Congress is not simply the helpless victim of a law passed 21 years ago during a much different era. If members of 112th Congress wanted to, they could pass new legislation to amend this 1990 law to not force this cut-off in aid.

(iii) Of course, the chances that the 112th Congress will amend existing law to avoid this kind of crisis at the UN are extremely low (to non-existent). There has been no case in memory where Congress has ever rescinded or amended (in any positive way) any pre-existing anti-PLO or anti-Palestinian legislation, regardless of how outdated or archaic it may be. The general sense seems to be that such legislation may one day again come in handy - like 22 USC 287e is coming in handy now - and that in any case, members of Congress don't earn any credit by being "nice" to the Palestinians. That is why today most things having to do with the Palestinians, including the ability to provide aid to the PA and the ability of the PLO to maintain an office in DC, require the continual issuance of presidential national security waivers - waivers that can be revoked by Congress at any time (as Congress is now threatening to do with the waiver that permits the PLO to keep an office in the U.S.).

(iv) Given the overwhelming view in Congress that the Palestinian effort to gain legitimacy and recognition at the UN is tantamount to a new form of terrorism against Israel, it seems likely that if the 1990 law did not already exist, the 112th Congress would have to invent it.

(v) It seems quite possible that if UNESCO and the Palestinians came to some agreement on an upgrade of status short of a status comparable to a member state (thus avoiding sanctions under the current law), Congress would act to strengthen U.S. law to ensure that even in such a case, U.S. sanctions would apply. Given the strong desire in Congress to punish the PLO (and anyone at the UN who supports it) and to avoid a precedent at UNESCO that could be replicated in other UN agencies, such a development seems quite likely.

(vi) It is worth noting that HR 2829 (see part 1, above), actually seeks to do exactly this. Section 403 of HR 2829 requires the mandatory withholding of U.S. contributions to any UN entity "that recognizes a Palestinian state or upgrades in any way, including but not limited to full membership or non-member-state observer status, the status of the Palestinian observer mission to the United Nations, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Palestinian Authority, or any other Palestinian administrative organization or governing entity...prior to the achievement of a complete and final peace agreement negotiated between and agreed to by Israel and the Palestinians."

(vii) It should be emphasized that the U.S. funding for UNESCO that is at issue here includes funding from the United States' assessed contributions to the UN, as opposed to voluntary contributions to UNESCO. This means that if Congress and the White House determine that under the current (or some future) law, funding to UNESCO must be cut off due to UNESCO treatment of the Palestinians, the U.S. will be in violation of its treaty obligations with respect to UN funding.

3. Members on the issues of the day

Rep. Peters (D-MI), on violence against Egyptian protesters (targeting of Copts), 10/14/11
Rep. Crowley (D-NY), condemning Iranian plot to carry out attacks in Washington, DC and calling for an increase in "U.S. and multilateral pressure,"10/13/11
Rep. Ted "and-that's-just-the-way-it-is" Poe (R-TX), on the Iran plot, Mexican gangs, border security and the imperative of regime change in Iran (accomplished by "the people of Iran who live in Iran and people who support the freedom fighters in Iran" - "the United States' policy publicly should be that we support those dissidents to get rid of the rogue regime of Ahmadinejad"), 10/13/11
Rep. Sires (D-NJ), on religious [sic] violence in Egypt, 10/12/11
Sen. Nelson (D-FL) on the Iranian bombing plot, 10/12/11
Reps. Carter (R-TX), Poe (R-TX) and Franks (R-AZ), on the Iran plot and the need for tougher border/immigration enforcement, 10/12/11
Rep. Berman (D-CA), on the Iranian plot, 10/11/11
Sen. Blunt (R-MO), on Iranian human rights abuse (persecution of Christians), 10/10/11
Rep. Sarbanes (D-MD), opposing Palestinian bid for UN recognition 10/6/11
Sen. Rubio (R-FL), on Iranian human rights abuse (persecution of Christians), 10/6/11
Sen. Casey (D-PA), on violence in Syria, the hold on S. Res. 180, and suggested next steps to deal with Syria (action by regional institutions, establish internationally-backed contact group to deal with the opposition, send international human rights monitors to Syria, cut commercial ties with the Assad regime.) 10/5/11

4. Odds and Ends

Hearings:

On 10/14/11, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing entitled, "Iran and Syria: Next Steps?--Part II." Webcast available here. Witness testimony: Wendy R. Sherman Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Department of State, and David S. Cohen, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Department of the Treasury. Statements: Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chabot (R-OH), Berman (D-CA), Ackerman (D-NY).

On 10/13/11 the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled "Addressing Potential Threats From Iran: Administration Perspectives on Implementing New Economic Sanctions One Year Later." Webcast available here. Witness testimony: Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; David S. Cohen, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence; and David W. Mills, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement. The hearing included discussion of S. 1048, to expand sanctions imposed with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran , North Korea, and Syria. For more on the hearing, see this report in the Cable.

APN:

APN statement 10/17/11: APN Condemns Planned New East Jerusalem Settlement
APN statement 10/11/11: APN Welcomes Deal to Release Gilad Shalit
Jerusalem Report, 10/24/11 issue: Call for a New Paradigm (Friedman)
Huffington Post 10/11/11: Outposts and the Abuse of Law in Service of the Settlements (Friedman/Ofran)

In the News:

The National Interest 10/18/11: Reining in Abbas: How America Should Punish the Palestinian Leader
JTA 10/18/11: Kay Granger and Nita Lowey, the congressional couple that's odd for getting along
Mother Jones 10/18/11: US Pays 18 Percent of Israel's Military Budget
Washington Post Oped 10/17/11: United States needs to reevaluate its assistance to Israel
Huffington Post 10/13/11: US Congress Ruining Ten Years of American Effort in Palestine (Daoud Kuttab)
Politico 10/12/11: Clinton: Obama should veto U. N. Bill
The Atlantic 10/7/11: Could Congress's Anti-Palestinian Turn Be Good News for Palestine? (Daniel Levy)
YNet 10/7/11: Abbas: US decision to suspend aid harms peace talks
Washington Post 10/6/11: In Palestinian lands, low expectations of US as peace broker have turned into outright anger
(from the archives) NY Daily News 7/13/1996: Palestinian leaders blasted Congress for applauding Netanyahu Wednesday, saying his uncompromising speech amounted to a declaration of war on Palestine.

News of the weird:

On 9/28/11, the ZOA issued a press release with the subject line "ZOA Expresses Concern about Credible Allegation of Extortion of Israel By White House." The press release makes the case that the Obama Administration - an Administration that has categorically failed to get the Netanyahu government to do pretty much anything it has asked since it came into office, and instead has been pretty thoroughly embarrassed and humiliated by that government at every turn - is forcing Israel to support continued aid to the Palestinians (and has enlisted AIPAC and other groups in this effort). Honestly, you gotta read this one to believe it.

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