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Legislative Roundup - May 27, 2005

I. Aid to the PA II. Congress Comments on PA Aid III. President Bush on the Record IV. Bills and Resolutions V. Dear Colleagues VI. Frist on the Record VII. Israel, China, and Defense Auth.

for the week ending May 27, 2005

I. Aid to the PA
II. Congress Comments on PA Aid
III. President Bush on the Record
IV. Bills and Resolutions
V. Dear Colleagues
VI. Frist on the Record
VII. Israel, China, and Defense Auth.

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I. AID TO THE PA
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In conjunction with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' visit this week to Washington, President George Bush on May 26th announced that he would provide $50 million in direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority. This aid comes on the heels of the recent supplemental, which included $200 million for Israel and the Palestinians, but with strong language directing that none of the aid be given directly to the PA (see previous editions of the Round-Up for complete details).

As announced by the President during a joint appearance with President Abbas in the Rose Garden on May 26th (excerpts included below), the $50 million in aid will be for "new housing and infrastructure projects in the Gaza. These funds will be used to improve the quality of life of the Palestinians living in Gaza, where poverty and unemployment are very high."

According to congressional sources, the $50 million will come from funds provided for the Palestinians in the FY05 Foreign Operations budget (funds not yet spent or obligated). These funds were explicitly referred to by appropriators, including ForOps Chairman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) during the mark-up of the recent supplemental aid package. At that time, Kolbe and others defended the decision of the House to remove the President's national security waiver with respect to the $200 million in the supplemental, saying that if the President wanted to grant aid directly to the PA he still had significant funds available "in the pipeline" over which he did have the authority to use a national security waiver.

The President's decision to provide these funds is thus not in direct defiance of congressional will, although the juxtaposition of this announcement with the recent restrictions on the supplemental does leave the impression that Congress and the President are not seeing completely eye-to- eye on the issue. It remains to be seen whether Congress will accept the President's decision or seek some means of expressing its displeasure, for instance, by cutting aid to the Palestinians, imposing additional restrictions on Palestinian aid, or removing or tightening up the President's waiver authority in the future (as noted in the May 6th edition of the Round-Up, in one instance congressional displeasure with direct aid to the PA was quietly expressed by cutting the funds available to the President by exactly the amount of the aid given to the PA).

In addition, there have been recent press reports of plans by some Members of Congress to seek new conditions on aid to the Palestinians, including making U.S. assistance conditional on an end to anti- Israel and anti-Semitic incitement. Paradoxically, this comes at a time when, according to Israel, incitement has actually decreased, and President Abbas and the PA are taking concrete steps to fight it. If Congress does move to add such new conditions to Palestinian aid, it would bolster the impression (left by the handling of the $200 million in the supplemental) that Congress trusted and wanted to help Yasser Arafat more than it trusts and wants to help President Abbas.

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II. CONGRESS COMMENTS ON PA AID
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Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), 5/26:

"I strongly support the President s decision to give $50 million in U.S. aid directly to the Palestinian Authority. As Israel prepares to withdraw from Gaza, this assistance will be critical in helping the Palestinians build quality housing and efficient infrastructure. Providing this aid directly to the P.A. will also help strengthen President Abbas, who is proving to be an effective leader in this new, post- Arafat era. In the past, Congress has thrown up unfortunate roadblocks in the path of direct assistance, so I hope today s announcement can signal a new partnership between the President and the Congress in our efforts to bring a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), 5/26:

"The Palestinian Authority is at a critical juncture in its history. President Abbas is engaged in a struggle with Hamas for the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people. He has only a brief window to establish his leadership of the PA by bringing real results to his people - constructing housing to move people out of crowded refugee camps, putting the vast numbers of the unemployed to work, and providing reliable social services to those in need. We must conduct rigorous oversight over the use of these funds to ensure that they are used to aggressively promote economic development and solely for the purposes the Administration has identified. President Bush has given President Abbas what he asked for; now Abbas must show that he can deliver for the Palestinian people and for everyone who has worked so hard to achieve peace."

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III. PRESIDENT BUSH ON THE RECORD ================================

Below are excerpts from the statement made by President Bush in the Rose Garden on May 26th, following his meeting with President Abbas. For full text of the statements made by President Bush and Abbas and the press Q&A that followed, click HERE

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"Mr. President, it is my honor to welcome the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people to the White House.

"We meet at a time when a great achievement of history is within reach, the creation of a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state. President Abbas is seeking that goal by rejecting violence and working for democratic reform. I believe the Palestinian people are fully capable of justly governing themselves, in peace with their neighbors. I believe the interests of the Israeli people would be served by a peaceful Palestinian state. And I believe that now is the time for all parties of this conflict to move beyond old grievances and act forcefully in the cause of peace.

"President Abbas's election four months ago was a tribute to the power and appeal of democracy, and an inspiration to the people across the region. Palestinians voted against violence, and for sovereignty, because only the defeat of violence will lead to sovereignty.

"Mr. President, the United States and the international community applaud your rejection of terrorism. All who engage in terror are the enemies of a Palestinian state, and must be held to account. We will stand with you, Mr. President, as you combat corruption, reform the Palestinian security services and your justice system, and revive your economy. Mr. President, you have made a new start on a difficult journey, requiring courage and leadership each day -- and we will take that journey together.

"As we work for peace, other countries must step up to their responsibilities. Arab states must take concrete measures to create a regional environment conducive to peace. They must offer financial assistance to all -- to support the peaceful efforts of President Abbas, his government and the Palestinian people. And they must refuse to assist or harbor terrorists.

"Israel must continue to take steps toward a peaceful future, and work with the Palestinian leadership to improve the daily lives of Palestinians, especially their humanitarian situation. Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes road map obligations or prejudice final status negotiations with regard to Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.

"Therefore, Israel must remove unauthorized outposts and stop settlement expansion. The barrier being erected by Israel as a part of its security effort must be a security, rather than political, barrier. And its route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities. As we make progress toward security, and in accordance with the road map, Israeli forces should withdraw to their positions on September the 28th, 2000.

"Any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 Armistice lines must be mutually agreed to. A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity of the West Bank, and a state of scattered territories will not work. There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza. This is the position of the United States today, it will be the position of the United States at the time of final status negotiations.

"...To help ensure that the Gaza disengagement is a success, the United States will provide to the Palestinian Authority $50 million to be used for new housing and infrastructure projects in the Gaza. These funds will be used to improve the quality of life of the Palestinians living in Gaza, where poverty and unemployment are very high. I've also asked Secretary Rice to travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah before the beginning of the Israeli withdrawal. Secretary Rice will consult with Israelis and Palestinians on the disengagement, their shared commitments and the way back on the road map.

"As we work to make the disengagement succeed, we must not lose sight of the path ahead. The United States remains committed to the road map as the only way to realize the vision of two democratic states living side-by-side in peace and security. It is through the road map that the parties can achieve a final permanent status agreement through direct negotiations.

"...Mr. President, we will work with you to help realize the dream of a free and democratic Palestine, to bring greater freedom, security and prosperity to all peoples in the region, and to achieve the lasting peace we all seek."

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IV. BILLS & RESOLUTIONS
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New:

(Israel) H.R. 2730: Introduced May 26th by Rep. Shadegg (R-AZ) and 17 cosponsors, "To establish a grant program to fund eligible joint ventures between United States and Israeli businesses and academic persons, to establish the International Energy Advisory Board, and for other purposes." Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. A similar bill, HR 5342, was introduced in the 108th Congress.

(Kuwait) H. Res. 292: Introduced May 23rd by Rep. Crowley (D-NY), "Commending the State of Kuwait for granting women certain important political rights." Referred to the House International Relations Committee.

Update:

(Israel) H. Con. Res. 149: On May 23rd the House voted to suspend the rules and pass H. Con. Res.149, "Recognizing the 57th anniversary of the independence of the State of Israel." The measure passed by a vote of 397-0.

(Lebanon) H. Res. 273: On May 23rd the House voted to suspend the rules and pass H. Res. 273, "Urging the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, support for free and fair elections in Lebanon, and the development of democratic institutions and safeguards to foster sovereign democratic rule in Lebanon." The measure was adopted by voice vote (i.e., no roll call vote).

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V. DEAR COLLEAGUES
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(Disengagement) This week Sens. McConnell (R-KY) and Durbin (D-IL) began seeking cosigners on a letter to President Bush regarding the Israeli disengagement plan.

The letter is nearly identical to the one circulated last week in the House (see last week's Round-Up for details), including the strong message that the signers "understand the desire by some to rush to deal with final status issues soon after disengagement. We encourage [the House version used the word "urge"] you to resist that pressure. Ultimately, the peace process will only succeed if the disengagement works well, if the Palestinians take real steps to end terror and institute real reform, and the parties then proceed to the next steps in the Road Map. This process will take time and patience, but it is the only way to build the confidence and the reforms necessary to move forward. We appreciate the leadership you have demonstrated so far and stand ready to work together with you in these important efforts."

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VI. FRIST ON THE RECORD
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On May 26th Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R-TN) published an op-ed in USA Today (page 15). The op-ed is reproduced here in its entirety:

"In about three months, Israel will begin its courageous withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Nearly 8,500 Israeli settlers will pack up their homes and relocate. Many settlers are unhappy; some will resist. The road to peace will not be easy.

"But the most urgent challenge of Gaza is not Israel's disengagement, but the Palestinian Authority's subsequent management over this troubled area. A coordinated hand-over that prevents instability and builds confidence means progress toward the 'road map' to peace, while turmoil ensures a detour. Escalation of violence could lead to the collapse of Mahmoud Abbas' government some have even suggested a third intifada.

"Wednesday, when I met with President Abbas on Capitol Hill, we discussed the importance of this transition. He understands that the credibility of his government and the hopes of his people depend on the Palestinian Authority's ability to deliver the fruits of peace, especially jobs and social services.

"But President Abbas cannot turn his words into reality if the resources required for success, particularly in Gaza, are not readily available. That, in turn, could mean the end of President Bush's vision of two democratic states living side by side in peace and security. As a strong supporter of Israel and what she stands for, we cannot let that happen.

"This is not an easy thing for an optimist such as myself to say. But having just spent a week meeting with leaders in the region, I believe that the next 90 days are a crucial test for peace. This is why the United States, Europe and the Arab world need to act quickly and boldly to empower President Abbas by at least doubling, and delivering, the financial assistance they've committed to meet the needs of the Palestinian people.

"The international community has provided the Palestinians with a great deal of money over the years, only to see it frittered away through fraud and waste. But with new leadership now in Ramallah, and the chance for peace high, we can afford to risk a little more when so much is at stake.

"President Abbas also must do his part to:

"- Overhaul Palestinian institutions and govern with transparency and accountability.

"- Show the Palestinian people that their needs are his priority, and that progress will be made through negotiation, not violence.

"- Disarm and disband militants, because ending terrorism is the prerequisite for peace in the region.

"- Ensure that arms aren't smuggled into Gaza for terrorist operations against Israel.

"At the same time, the Palestinian Authority must jump start Gaza's economy and create a functioning legal system to go after terrorists and criminals. All of this requires substantial funding.

"If he can demonstrate meaningful progress to the Palestinian people, and renew their hope for a better life, then Abbas can pursue his reform agenda and implementation of the road map. If he fails and Hamas the radical Islamic Palestinian group opposed to peace and responsible for many brutal attacks against Israel gains, the peace process will be imperiled.

"Abbas has already taken steps to reform the Palestinian Authority. He has consolidated the security services, has begun removing elements of Yasser Arafat's old guard, and is improving fiscal accountability. Much more needs to be done, beginning with the complete dismantlement of terrorist organizations, but this will take time a scarce commodity.

"For nearly four years, the United States has been fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has cost us billions of dollars and an even higher price in the lives of our military personnel. This war must be fought and won, but we cannot do it on the battlefield alone.

"Some of our enemies say they fight on behalf of the Palestinian people. Many see this issue as the source of resentment toward America. Despite our longstanding efforts in the Arab world and on behalf of Muslim peoples, some no longer see the United States as an honest broker. We must continue to demonstrate to the world that we stand for peace, justice and freedom by continuing to lead on this issue. In the long run, America will be more safe and secure, and so will Israel.

"The window for peace in the Middle East has opened, but I fear it will close (and maybe for good) in the next few months, unless we keep both sides talking and moving forward. We must look ahead and make sure President Abbas has the means to do his part to make peace in the Middle East a real possibility."

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VII. ISRAEL, CHINA, AND DEFENSE AUTH ====================================

On May 25th the House passed HR 1815, "To authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2006 for military activities of the Department of Defense, for military construction, and for defense activities of the Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes." The measure passed by a vote of 390 39.

Section 1212 of HR 1815, is entitled "Procurement Sanctions against Foreign Persons that Transfer Certain Defense Articles and Services to the People's Republic of China." The provision would make it U.S. policy to "deny the People's Republic of China such defense goods and defense technology that could be used to threaten the United States or undermine the security of Taiwan or the stability of the Western Pacific region."

To make good on this policy, the provision would bar the Secretary of Defense from procuring, for a period of five years, any goods or services from "any foreign person the Secretary of Defense determines has, with actual knowledge, on or after the date of the enactment of this Act, exported, transferred, or otherwise provided to governmental or nongovernmental entities of the People's Republic of China any item or class of items on the United States Munitions List (or any item or class of items that are identical, substantially identical, or directly competitive to an item or class of items on the United States Munitions List)."

There is some speculation that the provision could seriously impact Israeli weapons and equipment sales to the United States, since Israeli manufacturers do substantial business with China a longstanding sore point with the United States.


For more information contact APN Government Relations Director Lara Friedman at 202/728-1893, or at LFapn@earthlink.net.