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Government Relations: March 2010 Archives

APN Legislative Round-Up for the Week Ending March 26, 2010

1.  Bills and Resolutions 
2.  AIPAC on the Hill this week 
3.  Members of Congress Express Solidarity with Israel 
4.  APN Message to Congress in Advance of AIPAC Lobby Day 
5.  APN: Top 6 Bogus Excuses for East Jerusalem Settlement Expansion 
6.  Looking Ahead:  Anticipated Congressional Condemnation of UN Human Rights Council 
This morning APN sent the following message to every Hill office to help prepare them for tomorrow's AIPAC lobby day. 


Tomorrow, thousands of "pro-Israel" activists will be on the Hill claiming to speak for all Americans, and especially American Jews, who care about Israel.  We want you to know: they do not speak for the entire Jewish community. 

Most American Jews want Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to succeed and understand that robust, sustained US leadership is needed.  We know that sometimes this must include pressure on Israel's government.  We also know that Iran poses a serious threat to Israel and US national security interests, and that addressing this threat requires a sober, rational approach, not a knee-jerk reaction that is more reflective of frustration than strategic thinking.

The AIPAC-backed sign-on letters regarding US-Israel relations and the peace process, as well as sign-on letters regarding Iran sanctions, are circulating in both the House and Senate and posted on AIPAC's website.  As expected, these are the two main "asks" that AIPAC will be bringing to Congress during its lobby day tomorrow.

US-Israel relations and the peace process:  APN's analysis/comments regarding the (link has expired) Senate letter, being circulated by Senators Boxer (D-CA) and Isakson (R-GA) are available here.   The (link has expired) House letter, being circulated by Hoyer (D-MD), Cantor (R-VA), Berman (D-CA), Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ackerman (D-NY), and Burton (R-IN) is similar to the Senate version, but different in two key ways.  First, it omits the paragraph blaming the Palestinians for the failure to re-start peace talks (the Senate version asserts that it is Palestinian intransigence and preconditions, not Israeli actions, that are to blame).  Second, the House letter makes explicit the call for US-Israel disagreements to be handled "quietly" (something that is implied, but not explicitly stated, in the Senate version).

Iran sanctions:  Also circulating (and available on AIPAC's website) are AIPAC-backed House and Senate letters urging the President to impose "crippling" sanctions on Iran -- a somewhat odd ask, since the legislation that AIPAC is lobbying for would actually force the president to impose such sanctions, meaning "urging" unnecessary.  The letters also urge him to implement his "existing authority" on Iran - an implied criticism that he is not fully implementing the sanctions already imposed under US law.  The House version of the letter, being circulated by Reps. Jackson Jr. (D-IL) and Pence (R-IN) is available (link has expired) here.  The Senate version, being circulated by Sens. Schumer (D-NY) and Graham (R-SC), is available (link has expired) here.

Clinton Tells It Like It Is at AIPAC

This morning Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a much-anticipated speech at the AIPAC policy conference (full text after the break).  In her speech she emphasized the strength of the US-Israel bilateral relationship and made some crowd-pleasing comments about the US commitment to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons (though she pointedly did not endorse or even mention the "crippling" sanctions legislation that is AIPAC's top lobbying objective this week, instead focusing on the Administration's efforts to build support for multilateral sanctions). 

She also made some important, and probably less welcome, statements about the peace process, including:

On settlements and the settlement "moratorium""We also made clear that this was just a first step and, like every administration for decades, underscored that the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. As Israel's friend, it is our responsibility to give credit when it is due and to tell the truth when it is needed."

On the imperative to achieve peace
"The conflict with the Palestinians and with Israel's Arab neighbors is an obstacle to prosperity and opportunity for Israelis, Palestinians, and people across the region. And it threatens Israel's long-term future as a secure and democratic Jewish state."

On the "demographic threat":
  "As Defense Minister Barak and others have observed, the inexorable mathematics of demography are hastening the hour at which Israelis may have to choose between preserving their democracy and staying true to the dream of a Jewish homeland. Given this reality, a two-state solution is the only viable path for Israel to remain both a democracy and a Jewish state."

On the linkage between the conflict and extremism:  "The status quo strengthens the rejectionists who claim peace is impossible and weakens those who would accept coexistence. That does not serve Israel's interests or our own. Those willing to negotiate need to be able to show results for their efforts. And those who preach violence must be proven wrong. All of our regional challenges -- confronting the threat posed by Iran, combating violent extremism, promoting democracy and economic opportunity - become harder if rejectionists grow in power and influence. Conversely, a two state solution would allow Israel's contributions to the world, and to our greater humanity, to get the recognition they deserve; would allow the Palestinians to realize their own legitimate aspirations; and would undermine the appeal of extremism across the region."

Reiterating US "principles" and policy on final status:  "...we believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree to an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the '67 lines, with agreed swaps, and Israel's goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel's security requirements."

Reiterating US "principles" and policy regarding Jerusalem:  "The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply important issue for Israelis and Palestinians, and for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. We believe that through good faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem, and safeguards its status for people around the world.  For negotiations to be successful, they must be built on a foundation of mutual trust and confidence. That is why both Israelis and Palestinians must refrain from unilateral statements and actions that undermine the process or prejudice the outcome of talks."

Re-iterating US opposition to settlement construction in East Jerusalem:  "New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need. It exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit. And it undermines America's unique ability to play a role - an essential role, I might add -- in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don't agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally."

CLARIFICATION:  Nothing in this post reflects secret, leaked, or internal AIPAC documents.  The Senate letter was circulating widely by email among Senate staff as of late Friday afternoon.  All the other documents referenced here are available for anyone to see on the AIPAC website (and links to them, on the AIPAC website, are provided).

As noted in today's Round-Up, AIPAC will be on the Hill next week lobbying members of Congress to pass "crippling" Iran sanctions and to sign on to letters to the Administration regarding US-Israel relations and the peace process. 

The Senate version of that letter, being circulated by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), can now be read here; the Dear Colleague circulating with it can be read here.  As expected, it is a carefully crafted, moderate-sounding letter -- an updated version of last year's Bayh-Risch letter.  In brief, the letter (addressed to Secretary Clinton):

  • implies that the problem with the recent announcement of new Jerusalem settlement plans was a problem of timing, not substance, and that the construction itself is not a serious issue since it will take place sometime in the future ("We write to urge you to do everything possible to ensure that the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israel over the untimely announcement of future housing construction in East Jerusalem do not derail Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or harm U.S.-Israel relations.")

  • asserts that the failure to re-start Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is entirely due to Palestinian intransigence and in no way due to Israeli actions ("Despite your best efforts, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen over the past year.  Indeed, in a reversal of 16 years of policy, Palestinian leaders are refusing to enter into direct negotiations with Israel.  Instead, they have put forward a growing list of unprecedented preconditions.  By contrast, Israel's prime minister has stated categorically that he is eager to begin unconditional peace negotiations with the Palestinians."

  • implies that the Obama Administration should not publicly criticize Israel, even when Israel does things to publicly embarrass it ("We recognize that our government and the Government of Israel will not always agree on particular issues in the peace process.  But such differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies."

APN Legislative Round-Up for the Week Ending March 19, 2010

1.  Bills and Resolutions 
2.  Congress and the Jerusalem Settlements Dust-Up 
3.  AIPAC on the Hill Next Week 
4.  Dear Colleague Bashing PA 
5.  APN on Iran Sanctions, Jerusalem Settlement Issue 

Ending the "business-as-usual" settlements era in East Jerusalem?

Why did Israel greet Vice President Biden with an announcement of more settlement activity in East Jerusalem?  Was it a deliberate insult?   A provocation?  A sign of colossal hubris?  

The more likely answer is less sinister but no less ominous: this was just business-as-usual - an Israeli government thumbing its nose at the US, assuming there will be no consequences.  

Most insiders agree that Netanyahu probably didn't know in advance about the settlement plan coming up for approval, and that the timing was more about one of Netanyahu's ministers trying to embarrass him than about trying to pick a fight with Washington.   But that absolves Netanyahu of nothing.  For him to not be keeping track of (and taking control of) Jerusalem settlement plans at this point is either gross negligence or willful ignorance.  

And that, too, is business-as-usual: an Israeli Prime Minister who believes it is politically easier and less costly to clash with the US than with his own cabinet or domestic constituencies.

My new piece on Iran and sanctions, published today on Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel...

Getting over the sanctions delusion

Recently I was talking with a friend from the military-intelligence world about the mounting pressure on Congress to pass the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act - legislation aimed at "crippling" Iran's civilian economy.  Reportedly a House-Senate conference is already informally underway trying to craft a consensus version of the bill, and last week AIPAC sent a message to every Member of Congress urging that IRPSA be enacted "without delay."

I explained that in my view sanctions aimed at civilians were a bad idea, and that sanctions in general, while a potentially powerful tool, do not, on their own constitute a policy.  My friend's  response? "Sanctions are the sign of a failed policy, period."

He makes a good point.  Fundamentally, sanctions are how the US tells a foreign government:  we don't like you, we can't convince you to see things our way, and we can't (or aren't ready to) overthrow you - so get ready to feel some pain.

APN Legislative Round-Up for the week ending March 12, 2010

1.  Bills and Resolutions 

2.  House/Senate/AIPAC Gear Up on "Crippling" Iran Sanctions 

3.  New APN Policy document - Needed: A Rational Approach to Iran

4.  Crowley Circulates Dear Colleague in support of Israeli-Palestinian Coexistence Programs

Needed: A Rational Approach to Iran

APN today released new policy language to address the changing political situation in Iran.

March 2010

An Iran armed with nuclear weapons represents an alarming scenario that neither the U.S. nor Israel, nor for that matter, the world, can afford to ignore, and one that the U.S. and the international community should be exerting all efforts to avoid. 

APN Legislative Round-Up for the week ending March 5, 2010

1.  Bills and Resolutions
2.  FY12 ForOps Season Opens - President's Budget Request
3.  FY12 ForOps Season Opens - Hearings
5.  Ros-Lehtinen attacks UNRWA (again)