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Legislative Round-Up: week ending November 30, 2012

1.  Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2.  NDAA Amendments Target Palestinians, UN, and More
3.  Responses to UNGA vote
4.  Hearings
5.  Members on the Record  
6.  From the Press

Of note from APN: 

APN 11/29: After UN Vote on Palestine, Time for Credible Peace Talks
APN 11/27: APN Calls on Obama Administration to Support Palestinian UN Initiative
Shalom Achshav 11/27: Israel Should Welcome UN Vote on Palestinian Initiative
APN's Lara Friedman 11/20/12 on Gaza in the NYT: Only the U.S. Can Broker Peace

1.  Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

(DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION/PUNISH PALESTINIANS) S.3254: Introduced 6/4/12 by Sen. Levin (D-MI), the "National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013."  On 11/28 -11/30 the Senate once again took up this contentious bill.  Exploiting the opportunity offered by consideration of what is widely-viewed as must-pass legislation, some Senators offered amendments related to this week's Palestinian initiative at the UN.  Other amendments were introduced related to Iran, Israel/Iron Dome, and Egypt.  Details of the amendments are included in Section 2, below.

(NEW GAZA WAR)  H. Res. 813:  Introduced 11/16/12 by Reps. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Berman (D-CA), "Expressing vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizing and strongly supporting its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism."  Brought to the floor and passed 11/16/12 "without objection" (no recorded roll call vote).  This resolution is identical to S. Res. 599, passed by the Senate on 11/15/12.  It is worth noting that this resolution appears to have been rushed through the House in a somewhat unusual manner - it appears to have been introduced and brought to the floor immediately, with no advance notice to members, and then passed instantly "without objection" without even the normal grandstanding statements of support - in a process that took a grand total of 2 minutes.  Analysis of S. Res. 599 applies equally to H. Res. 813 - the resolution, which is clearly cribbed from previously adopted language relating to the last Gaza War, has this time removed any mention of support for a ceasefire or concern for civilian casualties. (A detailed comparison of the current legislation and previous version is available here).  Press reports on the resolutions can be read here and here.

(LETTER TO MORSI) Wyden et al:  On 11/28/12 Senator Wyden (D-OR) circulated a letter inviting colleagues to co-sign a letter to Egyptian President Morsi urging him to do more to crack down on weapons being smuggled into Gaza.

2.  NDAA Amendments Target Palestinians, UN, and More

On 11/28/12 the Senate re-opened consideration of S. 3254, the "National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013."  This bill, which funds the entire gamut of Defense Department-related programs, is generally viewed as "must-pass" legislation.  It is also generally handled by Congress with some degree of respect, in deference to the strong bipartisan support for U.S. national security and for Americans serving in the U.S. military - meaning that in the past, this bill has been less of a target of highly politicized, contentious, non-germane amendments (in contrast to, say, legislation authorizing the State Department's operations).  This time around, with Senators looking to score points around the 11/29 UNGA vote on the status of the Palestinians' representation to the UN, apparently the temptation to play games with the NDAA was irresistible.

Key Middle East-related amendments offered to the bill are as follows:

(a) Three amendments related to the Palestinians and the United Nations: SA 3139, SA 3171 and SA 3203 (none considered in the Senate as of 11/30 at 10:30am EST). These amendments were offered, notwithstanding the fact that there is nothing related to funding or programs for the Palestinians or the United Nations in the NDAA (but since the NDAA is the current focus of action in the Senate, and it is, as noted above, must-pass legislation, it is apparently an irresistible target).  

SA 3203 is offered by Senators Graham (R-SC), Schumer (D-NY), Barrasso (R-WY), and Menendez (D-NJ).  It would prohibit all aid to the Palestinian Authority if the International Criminal Court "adjudicates any matter proposed or supported by the Palestinian Authority or any other entity, legally recognized or otherwise, that purports to represent the interests of the Palestinian people."  This wording is interesting, in that the onus of responsibility falls on the ICC, not the Palestinians.  Under this language, a Palestinian effort to gain standing at the ICC, or even a Palestinian effort to bring a case to the ICC, would NOT trigger an aid cut off.  What would trigger the cut-off would be the decision of the ICC to adjudicate a case in which the Palestinians were involved (a threat that is almost certain to outrage many at the UN, as it represents a pretty direct effort to interfere in the ICC's independence in deciding what cases to adjudicate).

Moreover, either intentionally or due to incredibly poor drafting, this language would impose a cut-off in aid in the case that the ICC adjudicates any matter "supported" by the PA.  This means that that even if the Palestinians decided not to try to gain standing in the ICC or file any case there against Israel, the mere fact of the PA expressing support for another country's case in the ICC - even outside the context of the United Nations itself, or even a case entirely unrelated to Israel - would trigger the aid cut.

Notably, this language includes no waiver - that is, the cut-off of aid could not be waived even if U.S. national security were involved.  Moreover, as-written, the cut-off in aid would not expire or sunset with the passage of time or changing conditions  (i.e., if aid to the PA was cut off, it would stay cut off forever - or at least until the law is changed , which based on experience is the same as forever).

In addition, this amendment would force the closure of the PLO representative office in the U.S. unless the President determines and reports to Congress that "the Palestinians have entered into direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel."  This wording, too, is interesting.  It includes no grace period and, as written, would in effect require a constant re-affirmation of the determination - as opposed to a determination made, say, every 90 or 180 days.  It also permits no "wiggle room" for efforts to re-start or keep alive negotiations once they have started.  As a result, if this language became law today, the PLO office would have to be closed immediately.  Likewise, it would mean that if negotiations were underway and broke down FOR A SINGLE DAY, the office would be kicked out of the U.S.

Moreover, the wording begs the question: how do the drafters define "meaningful"?  As written, the forced closure of the PLO office is as much a function - objectively speaking - of the Israeli government's positions and actions as it is a function of those of the Palestinians.  Given the composition of the new Likud elections list, which is dominated by candidates who support settlement expansion across the entire West Bank (some even support rebuilding settlements in Gaza) and oppose the two-state solution, it is unclear how the drafters of the amendment expect the Palestinians, on their own, to satisfy the requirement that negotiations be "meaningful." It is equally unclear why the drafters feel it is reasonable that this requirement fall only on one party to negotiations.   The news that Israel plans to respond to the UNGA vote by approving massive new settlement construction, including in areas where such construction will be devastating if not fatal to the very possibility of implementing a two-state solution, underscores the problem with this demand.

And again, this language includes no national security waiver - meaning that, as was the case in the past, if passed into law Congress would be adopting a policy of cutting off America's nose (i.e., its ability to engage the Palestinians diplomatically for the sake of U.S. interests) to spite its face.   Even Castro's Cuba has for years been permitted to maintain an "interests section" in the U.S. without facing similar pressure and attacks.  

SA 3171 is offered by Senators Hatch (R-UT), Roberts (R-KS), Chambliss (R-GA), Barrasso (R-WY), Inhofe (R-OK), Wicker (R-MI), Lee (R-UT), Coburn (R-OK), Risch (R-ID), and Rubio (R-FL).  It would bar all U.S. funding to the UN in the event that UNGA votes to upgrade the status of the Palestinians in any manner whatsoever (as it did, subsequent to the introduction of the amendment).   In a November 28th op-ed in the New York Jewish Week, Doug Bloomfield speculated that the apparent underlying goal of the amendment is to pull the U.S. out of the UN, killing, as he puts it, two birds with one stone.   Hatch's 11/28 press release announcing the amendment can be found here.

SA 3139 is offered by Senators Barrasso (R-WY), Lee (R-UT), and Inhofe (R-OK).   The amendment would cut U.S. assistance to the Palestinians by 50% if the PA "seeks at any time after November 25, 2012, at the United Nations General Assembly or any other United Nations entity status different than the status it held on November 25, 2012" -- with such cuts continuing "until permanent status issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are fully resolved."  It would also cut by 50% U.S. contributions to any UN entity that in any way upgrades the Palestinians' status. Finally, it would cut by 20% U.S. assistance to any country that votes to in any way upgrade the Palestinians' status.  Some observations about the amendment from APN are available here.

SA 3139 and SA 3171 are partisan (supported only by Republicans) and, in their substance and drafting, pretty ham-fisted.  SA 3203 is also pretty ham-fisted, but it is bipartisan and is already being talked about as the more "moderate" approach (compared to the other two amendments).  It is also broadly consistent with the tone that Israel is increasingly taking (i.e., that the UN vote to upgrade the Palestinians' status isn't really important; what is really important is what happens next), and with the approach that is being prescribed by AIPAC (discussed in Section 3, below).  It thus seems that SA 3203 is the more likely focus for actual action.  

Finally, Sen. Barrasso - who apparently has decided to take a leading role in the campaign to teach the Palestinians (and the UN, and the world) a lesson - published an op-ed 11/29/12 in the National Review Online.  In it he laid out his belief in a negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians.  In it he also notes, apparently with no sense of irony, that "The 1995 Oslo II Agreement and the 1998 Wye River Memo prohibit either side from 'chang[ing] the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip'" - notwithstanding the fact that over the past 20 years, Israel has acted to dramatically and in material, concrete ways alter the status of land in the West Bank, as well as to effectively sever the West Bank and Gaza.

(b) An amendment related to Egypt - SA 3061 Offered by Sen. Toomey (R-PA), the amendment would make funding appropriated for joint U.S.-Egypt military exercise contingent on Egypt not abrogating, terminating, or withdrawing from the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.   The amendment includes Presidential national security waiver authority.

(c) An amendment related to Israel/Iron Dome - SA 3122 (Agreed to by Unanimous Consent 11/29). Offered by Sen. Wicker (R-MS), the amendment is a Sense of the Senate reaffirming the U.S. commitment "to the security of our ally and strategic partner, Israel"; fully supporting Israel's right to defend itself against acts of terrorism, sympathizing with "the families of Israelis who have come under the indiscriminate rocket fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza," recognizing "the exceptional success of the Iron Dome Missile Defense system in defending the population of Israel," desiring "to help ensure that Israel has the means to defend itself against terrorist attacks, including through the acquisition of additional Iron Dome batteries and interceptors" and urging "the Departments of Defense and State to explore with their Israeli counterparts and alert the Senate of any needs the  Israeli Defense Force may have for additional Iron Dome batteries, interceptors, or other equipment depleted during the current conflict."

(d) A major amendment laying out new Iran sanctions - SA 3232, offered by Sens. Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirk (R-IL) (Agreed to 11/30, by a vote of 94-0).  Media reports earlier this week noted that "Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk have crafted new sanctions that would punish foreign banks that handle transactions for a broad sector of industries, including shipping, ports, ship building and more types of energy."  The Cable reported on 11/29/12 that the amendment will "blacklist Iran's energy, port, shipping, and shipbuilding sectors, while also placing new restrictions on Iran's ability to get insurance for all these industries. The legislation would also vastly expand U.S. support for human rights inside Iran and impose new sanctions on Iranians who divert humanitarian assistance from its intended purpose."  Menendez' statement introducing the legislation is available here.

3.  Responses to UNGA vote

The big news this week for those focused on Israeli-Palestinian issues was, of course, the UNGA vote on 11/29/12 to upgrade the status of the Palestinians to non-member observer state (the final vote tally - 138 countries voting YES, 9 countries voting NO, and 41 countries abstaining - is available here).  As discussed above, prior to the vote, some Senators were already introducing legislation (in the form of NDAA amendments) aimed at punishing the Palestinians, the UN, and other countries who refused to toe the U.S./Israel line on the issue.

Immediately following the vote, AIPAC released a policy memo entitled, "Palestinian U.N. Upgrade Undermines Peace Efforts". The money quote (no pun intended) is:  

"...The United States must demonstrate to the PLO that unconstructive unilateral actions have consequences. The United States can send this message in a number of ways, including through the closing of the PLO office in Washington.  The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed resolutions in mid-2011 (H. Res. 268 and S. Res. 185) warning the Palestinians that there will be serious implications for U.S.-Palestinian relations and continued U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority if it continues its efforts at the United Nations.  Congress has made it clear that the Palestinians stand to lose all U.S. aid should they continue to pursue these misguided efforts at the United Nations.  The United States also needs to work to ensure that the vote will not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other U.N. agencies or other international bodies."  

Notably, the suggested sanctions are broadly consistent (though actually would appear to go farther) with those proposed in the Graham/Schumer/Barrasso/Menendez amendment, discussed above.  Support for this amendment (or something else like it) is not, as of this writing, listed as part of AIPAC's legislative agenda.

Reactions from members of Congress to the UNGA vote were almost uniformly negative.  However, they also sent a fairly consistent message that Congress will not be seeking to impose punishment on the Palestinians for having gone to the UN and achieving upgraded status, but  will instead focus on what happens next (again, broadly consistent with AIPAC's statement).  

Outgoing House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) released a statement entitled "U.S. Must Impose Severe Economic Consequences for UN's Irresponsible Support for Palestinian Statehood Scheme."  The content of the statement, however, is not what the title would lead one to believe.  Ros-Lehtinen does not call for any new sanctions or punishment, but rather says that Congress should refuse to allow existing laws to be changed to remove existing sanctions/limitations on U.S. assistance.  She states, "The U.S must stand with our ally Israel and offer no U.S. taxpayer dollars and no political support for the PLO [already barred by longstanding U.S. law].  As other UN bodies will no doubt use General Assembly resolution as an excuse to grant membership to a non-existent Palestinian state, U.S. law is clear: UN agencies that grant membership to a Palestinian state lose their U.S. funding [already the case under longstanding, if anachronistic, U.S. law].  If the Administration again seeks to gut U.S. law and keep funding those reckless UN agencies, Congress' response must be simple: No : No U.S. Money to UN Agencies Backing Palestinian State."  It was mistakenly reported that Ros-Lehtinen called for cutting off all funding for the Palestinian - apparently reflecting a mistaken belief that barring funding for the PLO is the same as cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority (it is not the same).  

In her reaction to the vote, the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee's Foreign Operations Subcommittee, Granger (R-TX), made no reference to any sanctions, existing or new, commenting only: ""I am extremely disappointed with President Abbas' decision to seek limited statehood status at the U.N.  The only legitimate way of achieving statehood is through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.  This maneuver serves as a diversion from, and an impediment to, the need to restart direct talks."

Likewise, in what politically was a rather remarkable development, House Democratic Whip Hoyer (D-MD) and House Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) managed to come together to release a joint statement on the UNGA vote.  The statement expresses deep disappointment and frustration with Abbas, but makes no reference, not even a veiled one, to Congressional plans to punish the Palestinians.  Others who condemned the vote, with varying degrees of vehemence, but likewise made no call for legislation to impose punishment on the Palestinians or the UN  (in no particular order) were: Nadler (D-NY), Waxman (D-CA), Brady (R-TX), Olson (R-TX), Carson (D-IN), Sen. Cardin (D-MD), and Sen. Johanns (R-NE).

Members calling for new sanctions/punishment against the Palestinians and/or the UN (in addition to those Senators already sponsoring amendments to do that, as discussed above) were Smith (R-NJ), Walsh (R-IL), Poe (R-TX), and Flake (R-AZ, implied call, not directly stated).  Graham (R-SC), a sponsor of one of the pending Senate amendments, tweeted rather threateningly that "Granting UN membership to the Palestinian Authority is nightmare in the making for peace process & future relations between Congress and UN."  Rubio (R-FL) issued a statement reiterating his support for SA 3171, discussed above.  

The only member who spoke on the record with any positive message about the UN vote was Ellison (D-MN), who on 11/28 offered the following statement for the record:

"This vote should be seen as an opportunity, not an obstacle, for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We have seen in just the last few weeks how the absence of a serious peace process continues to harm both sides. President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and is pursuing statehood diplomatically. Opposing Fatah's non-violent efforts to achieve statehood sends the wrong message to the Palestinian people.

"It would be a mistake for the United States to punish the Palestinian Authority. Punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority will strengthen extremists and diminish U.S. influence in the region. As former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, 'The Palestinian request from the United Nations is congruent with the basic concept of the two-state solution. Therefore, I see no reason to oppose it...It is time to give a hand to, and encourage, the moderate forces amongst the Palestinians.' This view is bolstered by people like former Israeli deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin.

"The United States should use this opportunity to begin a new negotiations process toward a two-state solution. Only good-faith negotiations with both Palestinians and Israelis at the table will stop the violence and finally end this decades-old conflict. I hope all parties will use this opportunity to renew a quest for peace."

4.  Hearings

11/29/12:  HFAC full committee hearing: Israel's Right to Defend Itself: Implications for Regional Security and U.S. Interests.  Video here.  Witnesses offered a diverse range of views, ranging from hardcore neocon to right-wing:  Elliott Abrams, CFR (testimony); Danielle Pletka, AEI (testimony); and Robert Satloff, WINEP (testimony).   Opening statement by HFAC Chair Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is available here.

12/5/12: HFAC, Europe Subcommittee hearing: Iranian Influence in the South Caucasus and the Surrounding Region.  Scheduled witness is Ariel Cohen, Heritage Foundation.

5.  Members on the Record

Poe (R-TX) 11/29: Hamas is the Puppet and Iran is the Puppeteer
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 11/28: Statement following briefing by Israeli Ambassador Oren
Hirono (D-HI) 11/27: Rocket Attacks on Israel from Gaza
Marino (R-PA) 11/27: In Support of the Nation of Israel
Cantor (R-VA) 11/27: Congratulating Jinsa on another Successful Generals and Admirals Trip to Israel
Graham (R-SC) 11/19: Senators' Statement on the Prime Minister of Turkey's Comments on Israel Today
Barletta (R-PA) 11/16: Rep. Barletta Stands with Israel
Poe (R-TX) 11/16: Israel Under Attack -- Again
Green (R-TX) 11/16: Hamas Attacks on Israel
Meehan (R-PA) 11/16: Support for Israel
Olson (R-TX) 11/16: Recent Events in Southern Israel and Gaza
Hoyer (D-MD) 11/16: Supporting Israel's Right to Defend Itself
Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) 11/16: Support of Israel and Operation Pillar of Defense
Smith (R-NJ) 11/16: Remembering Our Closest Ally, Israel

6. From the Press

Jerusalem Post 11/29: US Senators move to cut PA aid should UN bid succeed
The Cable, 11/29: Top Democratic Senator: We need to do more in Syria, 11/23: How to prevent the next clash with Hamas (by Rep. Cantor, R-VA)
The Hill, 11/21: Senate threatens to cut aid to Palestinians over bid at UN
The Times of Israel, 11/19: Sen Graham threatens US will cut off Egypt aid unless it reins in Hamas
YNet 11/18: McCain: Without Iron Dome, Israel would be in Gaza
The Hill, 11/18: Sen. McCain calls for Bill Clinton to lead Israel-Palestinian talks