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APN Legislative Round-Up for the Week Ending September 17, 2010

1. Bills and Resolutions
2. Senate ForOps bill
3. House 'Dear Colleague' Opposing Saudi Sale
4. Shameless plug for recent APN publications

1.  Bills & Resolutions
 
H. Con. Res. 315: Introduced 9/14/10 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Sires (D-NJ), "Recognizing the formation and supporting the objectives of the Friends of Israel Initiative." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  For details on the Congressional launch of this new initiative (referred to hereafter as FOII) - which was launched in Paris the day of the Gaza flotilla debacle - see coverage by Politico or FOII's own website.
 
Notably, the mission statement around which FOII is organized appears to make Palestinian recognition of Israel "as the legitimate homeland of the Jewish people" a precondition for peace negotiations and implicitly places the full blame for the absence of peace on the Palestinians' failure to do so thus far.  H. Con. Res. 315 would have Congress "affirm" this statement. 
 
While FOII apparently is striving to be viewed as non-partisan, one of the only Americans listed among the founding members is John Bolton (listed just after the chair of the group, former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, in a list that is not organized alphabetically).  And the FOII helpfully lists its key supporters, who include William Kristol (the first name listed), Elliot Abrams, and Dore Gold.  Moreover, while Aznar was seemingly careful of his tone (at least in public) this week in Washington, he was quite open in his disdain for President Obama's policies when he addressed the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem just two weeks earlier, saying:
 
"President Obama has put in motion forces that, if unchecked, may redefine the nation and its place in the world in ways that, to me, may cause major problems to all of us. From his inauguration he has sought a new relationship with the Muslim world even at the cost of undermining America's best ally in the region... He seems to have devoted more time and energy in organizing today's meeting in Washington and advancing a new peace plan than in trying to prevent the Iranian regime from building its bomb. He has projected an image of somebody who wants to escape from the problems of the world, from Iraq to Afghanistan, embracing many enemies of America while punishing its traditional allies.  I don't think the growing attacks against Israel, and the general campaign of deligitimation are unrelated to the crisis of the West, and more particularly, the crisis of confidence that emanates from the White House today. When the strong horse is not perceived to be strong anymore, people tend to act in ways that would have seemed unbelievable just days before.  Our weakness, perceived or real, is the strength of our enemies.  ...the historic leader of the West, the United States of America, is going through a period of introspection, exhaustion, and even confusion.  If the US keeps fading away as a force for good in the World Israel will be forced to play a growing role in the region, and possibly beyond the region..."
 
2.  Senate FY11 ForOps bill
 
On July 29th the Senate Appropriations Committee reported out of committee S. 3676, the FY11 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.  The bill includes the following Middle East-related earmarks and provisions:
 
TITLE I -- DEPARTMENT OF STATE AND RELATED AGENCY
 
Broadcasting Board of Governors, international broadcasting operations: $743,925,000 for various purposes, including "to make and supervise grants for radio and television broadcasting to the Middle East."
 
Center for Middle Eastern-Western Dialogue Trust Fund: "For necessary expenses of the Center for Middle Eastern-Western Dialogue Trust Fund, the total amount of the interest and earnings accruing to such Fund on or before September 30, 2011, to remain available until expended."
 
Israeli Arab Scholarship Program: "For necessary expenses of the Israeli Arab Scholarship Program, as authorized by section 214 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1992 and 1993 (22 U.S.C. 2452), all interest and earnings accruing to the Israeli Arab Scholarship Fund on or before September 30, 2011, to remain available until expended."
 
TITLE III -- BILATERAL ECONOMIC ASSISTANCE
 
ECONOMIC SUPPORT FUNDS - ESF
 
Egypt
$250,000,000 "shall be shall be available only for assistance for Egypt"
- provided on a grant basis
- "and of which sum direct budget support shall be provided with the understanding that the Government of Egypt will undertake significant economic and democratic reforms which are additional to those which were undertaken in previous fiscal years, including making significant efforts to respect due process and the rights of its citizens to peaceful expression and association."
- of which not less than $20,000,000 shall be made available for democracy, human rights and governance programs
- of which not less than $35,000,000 shall be made available for education programs, of which not less than $10,000,000 is for scholarships for Egyptian students with high financial need:
 
West Bank/Gaza
- not more than $400,400,000 "may be made available for assistance for the West Bank and Gaza"
- EXCEPT, up to an additional $9,300,000 "may be made available for such assistance from funds appropriated for the Middle East Partnership Initiative".
 
Lebanon
- no specific ESF earmark for Lebanon, but...
- "$12,000,000 of the funds made available for assistance for Lebanon under this heading shall be for scholarships for students with high financial need at educational institutions in Lebanon that meet standards similar to those required for American accreditation"
 
Jordan
"not less than $360,000,000 shall be made available only for assistance for Jordan"
 
MIGRATION AND REFUGEE ASSISTANCE (MRA)
$25,000,000 shall be made available for refugees resettling in Israel
 
TITLE IV - INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE
 
PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS (PKO)
"not less than $26,000,000 shall be made available for a United States contribution to the Multinational Force and Observers mission in the Sinai."
 
FOREIGN MILITARY FINANCING (FMF)
 
Israel
- "not less than $3,000,000,000 shall be available for grants only for Israel
- "funds appropriated under this heading for assistance for Israel shall be disbursed within 30 days of the enactment of this Act"
- "to the extent that the Government of Israel requests that funds be used for such purposes, grants made available for Israel under this heading shall, as agreed by the United States and Israel, be available for advanced weapons systems, of which not less than $789,000,000 shall be available for the procurement in Israel of defense articles and defense services, including research and development"
 
Egypt
"not less than $1,300,000,000 shall be made available for grants only for Egypt, including for border security programs and activities in the Sinai
"funds appropriated under this heading estimated to be outlayed for Egypt during fiscal year 2011 shall be transferred to an interest bearing account for Egypt in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York within 30 days of enactment of this Act"
 
Jordan
"$300,000,000 shall be made available for assistance for Jordan"
 
TITLE VII - GENERAL PROVISIONS
 
Sec. 7007: Prohibition against direct funding for certain countries
"None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to titles III through VI of this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance or reparations for the governments of Cuba, North Korea, Iran, or Syria: Provided, That for purposes of this section, the prohibition on obligations or expenditures shall include direct loans, credits, insurance and guarantees of the Export-Import Bank or its agents.
 
Sec. 7013: Prohibition on taxation of assistance
None of the funds appropriated under title III of this Act may be made available for assistance for a foreign country unless the government of such country agrees, in writing, to exempt such assistance from taxation or to an effective arrangement for substantial reimbursement of such taxes. [this provision was originally added a number of years ago to address taxation of US aid by the Palestinian Authority, at a time when Congress was determined that no US funds of any kind should go to the PA.]
 
Sec. 7015: Reprogramming notification requirements
(f) None of the funds appropriated under titles III through VI of this Act shall be obligated or expended for assistance for...Yemen...except as provided through the regular notification procedures of the Committees on Appropriations.
 
Sec. 7021:  Prohibition on assistance to governments supporting international terrorism
This provision bars funding to any foreign government "which provides lethal military equipment to a country the government of which the Secretary of State has determined supports international terrorism..."
 
Sec. 7038: Near East
 
Lebanon
- Funds appropriated under the heading `Foreign Military Financing Program' in this Act for assistance for Lebanon shall be made available only to professionalize the Lebanese Armed Forces and to strengthen border security and combat terrorism, including training and equipping the Lebanese Armed Forces to secure Lebanon's borders, interdicting arms shipments, preventing the use of Lebanon as a safe haven for terrorist groups, and implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701.
-  Funds may not be made available for obligation until the Secretary of State provides the Committees on Appropriations a detailed spending plan.
 
Middle East Peace
- Funds appropriated by this Act should be made available in a manner to further peace in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians.
 
Tunisia
- Of the funds appropriated under the heading `Foreign Military Financing Program' in this Act that are available for assistance for Tunisia, $1,000,000 shall be withheld from obligation unless the Secretary of State certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that the Government of Tunisia is making significant efforts to respect due process and the rights of its citizens to peaceful expression and association, and to provide access for its citizens to the Internet.
 
West Bank and Gaza
- The terms and conditions of sections 7034(b) and 7035 through 7040 of Public Law 111-117 shall apply to funds appropriated in this Act.   (To review these provisions, see the 12/11/09 issue of the Round-Up)
 
Sec. 7061: Reconciliation programs
- Of the funds appropriated under title III of this Act under the headings `Economic Support Fund' and `Development Assistance', $25,500,000 shall be made available to support people to people reconciliation programs which bring together individuals of different ethnic, religious and political backgrounds from areas of civil strife and war, of which $10,500,000 shall be made available for such programs in the Middle East:
- the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development shall consult with the Committees on Appropriations, prior to the initial obligation of funds, on the most effective uses of such funds.
 
3.  House 'Dear Colleague' Opposing Saudi Sale
 
Reps. Weiner (D-NY) is leading a new effort to block a planned US arms sale to Saudi Arabia.  He is joined in his effort by Berkley (D-NV) and Carney (D-PA), who together are circulating a Dear Colleague letter seeking cosigners on a letter to President Obama threatening to block the sale.
 
Weiner is famous in the Round-Up for sponsoring an annual provision in the ForOps bill that prohibits aid to Saudi Arabia, notwithstanding that the US does not actually give any aid to Saudi Arabia (making Weiner the one brave member of Congress willing to stand up against an aid program that does not, in fact, exist - for the latest effort, see the 7/10/09 and 2/6/09 editions of the Round-Up).
 
This new letter to President Obama, among other things, argues that the adoption in 2009 of Weiner's amendment prohibiting aid to Saudi Arabia - an amendment that was uncontroversial, since, as noted earlier, there is no US aid to Saudi Arabia - as evidence of strong congressional opposition to this arms sale, which the letter describes as "military aid" (for everyone other than Weiner, "military assistance" refers to FMF funds - US aid dollars provided to foreign countries and spent, for the most part, on US military equipment).  It should be noted that the sale is worth $60 billion to US companies over 5-10 years.
 
The letter also asserts in its final point that "The United States needs to remain committed to Israel's qualitative military edge over its rivals in the region and should cease all negotiations over new weapons sales to Saudi Arabia."  This point rings somewhat hollow, given that, as reported by the JTA, it appears that Israel has given its blessing to the sale.  Perhaps unaware of this fact, support for Israel was one of the main reasons Carney gave for opposing the sale.
 
It should be noted that actually blocking the planned arms sales is easier said than done - and that in a highly-charged political season, the benefits of speaking out publicly against Saudi Arabia, on any issue, may well be an end in themselves.   For a review of what Congressional action is required to block a sale, see this report by the Congressional Research Service. It is worth noting that Weiner also previously rallied Congress in opposition to arms sales to Saudi Arabia in 2007 (see the 8/3/07 edition of the Round-Up) and 2008 (see the 1/18/08 edition of the Round-Up), without success.
 
4.  Shameless plug for recent APN publications
 
This past recess saw the publication of a number of articles and analyses by APN that members of Congress and staff might have missed:
 
Glib talk about settlements harms peace efforts (Parts I)
Published in ForeignPolicy.com 8/30/10
 
With the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks this week and the approaching September 26th expiration of the settlement moratorium, the settlements issue is set to once again take center stage.
 
Last week, in an otherwise excellent article, former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk suggested that this need not be a crisis. He stated that "there could be a workable compromise if Mr. Netanyahu restricts building to modest growth in the settlement blocs that will most likely be absorbed into Israel in the final agreement, while offering changes that would make a real difference to West Bank Palestinians..."
 
The following day, Haaretz's Aluf Benn offered a similar observation as he laid out the popular wisdom regarding what can be expected from Prime Minister Netanyahu. Benn stated that "Everyone agrees the sweeping construction freeze cannot be continued and that the large settlement blocs should be distinguished from the isolated settlements beyond the separation fence. Construction will resume in the blocs and be frozen in the isolated settlements--or continue on a small scale."
 
This narrative is highly attractive to analysts and pundits because it is simple to articulate, sounds reasonable, and offers an easy answer to the question: how can Netanyahu possibly continue the settlement moratorium? The answer? He doesn't have to.
 
Unfortunately, this narrative has two huge flaws.
 
First, it makes sense only if you ignore the inconvenient realities on the ground. Today, it is generally argued that Israel's West Bank barrier defines the settlement blocs. But the built-up area of the settlements on the"Israeli" side of the barrier is only around 7,300 acres, while the barrier de facto annexes an area nearly 20 times that size -- around 148,000 acres. Construction within these 148,000 acres directly threatens the viability of the two-state solution.  
 
Take, for example, the "Ma'ale Adumim bloc," which includes the site of the planned mega-settlement of E1 -- a settlement whose construction is potentially fatal to the two-state solution. Or the "Givat Ze'ev bloc", where the barrier route extends so far north that it reaches the very edge of Ramallah. Or the "Etzion bloc," where the barrier extends deep into the West Bank, transforming Bethlehem into an isolated enclave.
 
Some will argue that construction in blocs could be limited to the built-up areas of settlements (sometimes referred to as building "up" or vertical construction), but as chronicled by former US Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer, this is a trap. While it may sound reasonable to agree that settlers can continue to build inside settlements, so long as settlements aren't "expanding", achieving agreement on what it means to build "inside" a settlement versus "expanding" a settlement has proven impossible, allowing settlements to keep growing while the US and Israel bicker. Today's peace effort is too important to waste time re-visting this dead-end approach.
 
Second, this narrative suggests that settlements, not negotiations, will decide final borders.
 
This is not a good-faith way to re-start talks. Rather, it is the latest abuse of the "everybody knows" argument (an argument well-known for its use in defense of Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem). In effect, the argument is that "what is within the blocs (or inside the barrier) will be Israeli, and the rest is still up for grabs." This approach contradicts not only what Israel and the Palestinians have previously agreed to, but also the position of every US Administration.
 
Supporters of settlements often abuse President Bush's April 14, 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon, in which President Bush stated that "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." They seem to forget that in the preceding sentence President Bush stated that any agreement to this effect "should emerge from negotiations between the parties" and in the next sentence added the caveat that "any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities"[emphasis added].
 
Based on past negotiations, including the unofficial Geneva Initiative, it seems likely in the context of a negotiated peace agreement that Palestinians will agree to Israel retaining control of some settlements -- most likely those that are today part of so-called settlement blocs. This is an important principle that, along with the evacuation of all other settlements and land swaps of equal size and quality, could pave the way for a viable permanent status agreement. However, it is disingenuous to cherry-pick this principle in order to justify new settlement construction outside the context of such negotiations and absent a peace agreement. 
 
The soon-to-expire 10-month settlement moratorium included so many exceptions that it has had little visible impact on the ground. Construction in settlements has continued apace, as has planning and other preparation for new construction; violations of the moratorium are rampant; and the government of Israel, rather than taking steps to deal with illegal outposts, has engaged in efforts to legalize some. Indeed, the moratorium has had so little impact that today Arutz Sheva, the settlers' new outlet, reported that "the number of Jews in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] rose by over 2.5% in the first half of 2010...according to Interior Ministry statistics. An increase of 8,000 Jews in the first half of 2010 was registered in the Population Registry of the Interior Ministry--a growth rate nearly three times that of the rest of Israel."
 
Today, swapping this incomplete moratorium for new rules of the game permitting construction within so-called settlement blocs would directly threaten the prospects for a peace agreement on the ground. It would undermine President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, who reject violence and tell their people that negotiations with Israel are the correct way forward. It would signal that the Netanyahu government is not serious about peace. And it would deal a body blow to the Obama Administration's credibility as a steward of the peace process.
 
Middle East peace efforts are not served by narratives -- attractive as they may be -- that delude anyone into believing that Israel can avoid the hard decisions it must make on settlements.
 
Glib talk about settlements harms peace efforts (Parts II)
Published in ForeignPolicy.com 9/14/10
 
As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators sat down for the second round of peace talks today in Sharm el Sheikh, their meeting was overshadowed by the imminent expiration of the settlement moratorium on September 30th. Many pundits continue to argue that a compromise on the settlement moratorium -- one that permits Israel to pursue some new settlement construction -- is the only thing that can get the parties past this hurdle. Many continue to suggest, too, that a "reasonable" compromise on settlements is easy to define. They are wrong on both counts.
 
It also seems safe to predict that a corollary to these arguments will soon emerge, to the effect that President Abbas' continued refusal to accept a compromise proves he is weak or, more damning, not serious about making peace. The irony is that this analysis makes as much -- if not more -- sense applied to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
 
First, let's be clear: a compromise on the moratorium is not necessary. Netanyahu has the political wherewithal to extend the moratorium if he wants to. Given the absence of widespread opposition to the moratorium in the first place, it seems unlikely that such a decision would topple his government now, especially with Kadima party waiting in the wings. Such a move would also pay significant dividends in terms of Israel's global standing -- something of tangible value to Israelis who today are deeply concerned that Israel is being delegitimized internationally.
 
Nor is a compromise good for Israel. Today Netanyahu has the opportunity to do something heroic and historic: to wrest control of the country's future away from the settlers.
 
For decades Israeli governments have let the settlers lead the country down a self-destructive path. They have let the settlers hijack Israel's political agenda, define the diplomatic debate, shape Israel's public image, and divert precious resources away from Israeli society at large.
 
Extending the moratorium could begin to stop this, and it would improve the chances that the newly-launched negotiations will reach an agreement that brings peace and security to Israel and ultimately renders the debate over settlement construction moot.
 
So why is Netanyahu stubbornly insisting on building in settlements? Is it because he is a weak leader -- lacking in courage and doubting his own ability to maneuver politically in order to stay in power if he makes tough decisions? Or, more damning, does it demonstrate that he is insincere in his embrace of peace talks and only too happy to use settlements to torpedo them?
 
Regardless of the answer, Netanyahu is insisting that Israel must build, and Abbas is holding firm in his demand that the moratorium continue. Faced with this stalemate, there will almost certainly be pressure on them both to come to some kind of mutually-acceptable compromise. Precisely what such a compromise might consist of, assuming one is possible, is not clear. What is clear is that it could not be based on the kind of constructive ambiguity and total indifference to the facts that have been the hallmark of all the "compromises" suggested thus far.
 
Because when talking about settlements and "compromises," the devil is in the details -- and most pundits seem blissfully ignorant of the details.
 
Like the idea that Israel could extend the moratorium, but only in settlements located outside of the so-called settlement "blocs" -- defined as those settlements located west of Israel's West Bank barrier. Or that Israel could extend the moratorium, but only to construction that is outside the built-up area of settlements -- allowing settlements to grow "vertically." As explained here, the former would open the door for a settlement construction boom that could threaten the two-state solution; the latter is a dangerous trap that the Bush administration nearly fell into.
 
Some are now suggesting that the moratorium could be allowed to expire, but Prime Minister Netanyahu could then quietly impose a de facto moratorium by not issuing new permits, or issuing only very few. Here, again, the devil is in the details.
 
The Israeli Peace Now movement just issued a new report examining the settlement construction pipeline -- those units that have already been fully or partly approved for construction in settlements.
 
Peace Now found that there are around 38,000 units in this pipeline, of which 13,000 units have been fully approved by the government of Israel. Construction of them can go ahead once the moratorium expires, regardless of any de facto moratorium. Of these, construction of more than 2,000 would start literally the moment the moratorium expires, while the remaining 11,000 could start whenever there is demand and the relevant settler authorities issue the final permits.
 
Meaning that a de facto moratorium would, in reality, be no moratorium at all.
 
And as noted previously, swapping an incomplete moratorium for new rules of the game that permit even more settlement construction would not be a good-faith way to start peace talks.
 
What it would be is an excellent way to threaten the prospects for a peace agreement and to weaken President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. It would be a surefire signal that the Netanyahu government isn't serious about peace. And it would almost certainly undermine the Obama Administration's credibility as a steward of Middle East peace.
 
Further reading:
 
The Neglected Facts within (and omitted by) the Latest Settlement Stats
Published on the APN blog 9/2/10
 
Top 10 Reasons to be Hopeful about New Peace Talks
Published on the APN blog 9/1/10
 
One Solution: Two States
Published 8/27/10 in the Forward
 
A dangerous sea-change in Israeli policy toward Jerusalem
Published 8/16/10 on the APN blog
 
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