The US government has swept into action in the aftermath of the Palestinians’ overwhelming victory at the United Nations on Thursday. No less than three amendments were brought in the Senate, to be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — a bill which has nothing to do with Israel and the Palestinians, but is a high-priority bill that the Senate must pass, and as such is a perfect target for frivolous amendments).
Two of the amendments are purely partisan and with a Republican minority in the Senate, they are unlikely to pass. The third, however, is bipartisan and the leading Democrat sponsoring it is Charles Schumer (D-NY) whose position as the Democrats’ lead fundraiser means he gets his senate colleagues’ attention. The partisan amendments are somewhat more draconian than the bipartisan one, which will make the bipartisan amendment look relatively moderate, thereby increasing the chances of its passage.
Along with Schumer, the amendment is sponsored by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Barrasso (R-WY) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ). It calls for the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in the US unless the Palestinians return to talks with Israel. No timeframe is given for the return to talks, nor is there any mention of anything Israel must do to make that return politically feasible for the Palestinians. This amounts to an attempt to force the Palestinians back into talks on Bibi Netanyahu’s terms, which, as I explain here, would be political suicide for the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The more important clause, however, would end all aid — with no provision for a presidential national security waiver — to the Palestinian Authority if it or any entity “that purports to represent the interests of the Palestinian people” should ever bring a case, or even support one brought by someone else, that the International Criminal Court (ICC) adjudicates. Access to the ICC is the biggest tangible gain the Palestinians got from their upgraded UN status, and this amendment is an attempt to ensure that it is useless. Significantly, according to the way the amendment is written, the aid cutoff would be automatically triggered even if the Palestinians support another case or if some other entity brings a case on the Palestinians’ behalf.
This may be only the beginning of legislative activism aimed at punishing the Palestinians for their UN move. The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) also issued a memo that echoed the condemnation of the Palestinian action from US officials starting with President Obama; painted an extremely distorted picture of the circumstances around and meaning behind the PLO’s move; and made a list of “recommendations” for the US government to follow. These include pressuring Mahmoud Abbas to refrain from similar actions in the future, “…demonstrate to the PLO that unconstructive unilateral actions have consequences;” close the PLO office in DC; and threaten aid to the Palestinians.
It’s standard procedure for such bills that AIPAC be at least consulted on its contents and this certainly would have been the case for a response to the UN vote. The presence of AIPAC talking points in the bill leaves little doubt about its influence; the fact that AIPAC’s own statement is much broader implies this is not the end of such legislation. In announcing their memo, Ron Kampeas at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that AIPAC in fact called for a “full review” of the U.S. relationship with the PLO.
AIPAC tries to push a point frequently made in the run-up to the UN vote — that Congress will cut off all aid to the PA if the PLO pursues gains at the UN. In fact, Congress has only mandated such cut-off if Palestine becomes a full member state of the UN, something the US can easily prevent because it requires Security Council certification. Still, it is clear that AIPAC is determined to punish the Palestinians in some way. Whether or not they are willing to risk the PA’s collapse — something the Obama Administration certainly wants to avoid, as does, quite likely, the Netanyahu government (at least currently) – remains to be seen.
Even granting that there was a good deal of lead time before the UN vote, it’s still worth noting how quickly Congress jumped to respond. It would be nice if they were so quick to respond to matters that are far more pertinent to US citizens, like, oh, the “fiscal cliff” for example. Maybe we can get AIPAC to push them on that.
– Mitchell Plitnick is the former Co-Director of Jewish Voice for Peace and former Director of the US Office of B’Tselem. You can follow him on Twitter at @MitchellPlit or at his blog, The Third Way.