Congress Addresses UN Vote and Trump Nominees

by Lara Friedman

As we have over the past two years, LobeLog is posting excerpts from the Legislative Round-up published weekly when Congress is in session by the inimitable Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now about what Congress is up to and what individual members are saying, particularly about Israel-Palestine and Iran.]

Bills & Resolutions Related to the Recent UNSC Settlements Resolution/Obama abstention

(SLAMMING SETTLEMENTS UNSCR & OBAMA ADMIN) S. Res. 6: Introduced 1/4 by Rubio (R-FL), Cardin (D-MD) and after a week sporting a bipartisan cosponsors list of 69 Senate colleagues, “A resolution objecting to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 and to all efforts that undermine direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for a secure and peaceful settlement.”

  • As noted in last week’s Round-Up, this resolution is strongly backed by AIPAC and a wide range of right-wing and right-leaning Jewish groups. It is opposed by Americans for Peace Now [our message to senators/staff is here; our action alert to our grassroots is here], J Street, and a range of progressive groups.
  • While the House companion version (H. Res. 11) moved speedily last week to a vote, S. Res. 6 hit a wall – reportedly much to the anger and dismay of AIPAC. This wall was apparently in large part due to SFRC Chairman Corker (R-TN), who wanted to add sanctions against the UN to the bill (some suggested another reason was that Corker was unhappy the bill is a Rubio-Cardin initiative, rather than a Corker-Cardin initiative, which is what one would have expected given that the House version was led by the HFAC Chair and Ranking Member; having the Senate version led by an SFRC member who is not the chair, paired with the Ranking Member, could be perceived as a slight). Read the full and fascinating story here.
  • In the end, the SFRC scheduled – with less than 24hrs notice (a no-no) a mark-up of S. Res. 6 for the evening of 1/11. That mark-up and vote on the resolution was subsequently pushed back to mid-day on 1/12.
  • Three amendments to improve S. Res. 6 (i.e., to amend or remove language that is misleading or inaccurate or otherwise the most problematic) were offered in the SFRC:  a Kaine (D-VA) amendment (to remove an especially problematic clause in one of the findings – adopted by a voice vote); and two amendments from Udall D-MN to make far-reaching changes to the text (here and here, considered together and both defeated).The resolution was then adopted and reported out, paving the way for possible floor consideration.
  • As of this writing it is still not clear when S. Res. 6 will be brought to the floor, and, if/when it is, if it will move by Unanimous Consent or by a recorded roll call vote. Rumor has it that there are at least a couple of “holds” from Senators, in effect informal objections that prevent the resolution being brought quickly to the floor. Notably, the resolution includes language related to the upcoming Paris peace conference (this weekend), meaning that if it is not passed before the weekend, some of it will be overtaken by events.
  • With respect to the Paris conference, the resolution somewhat bizarrely “demands” that “the United States ensure that no action is taken at the Paris Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict scheduled for January 15, 2017, that imposes an agreement or parameters on the parties.” One might understand from this wording that Congress and AIPAC believe that the Obama Administration has the ability to dictate the policies of other countries – or more likely, they should understand that AIPAC and its allies in Congress want to make sure in advance that if things happen in Paris that Israeli Prime Minister doesn’t like, the ground has already been prepared for Israel and Congress to blame Obama. No doubt it warms the hearts of the Israeli right and its US supporters to see bipartisan cooperation in setting this trap for the Obama Administration.

Hill Initiatives Related to Moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

As noted in last week’s Round-Up, GOP members of Congress – eager to see are the U.S. embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – have already introduced three pieces of legislation designed to force Trump to make such a move (S. 11, HR 257, and HR 265), by removing the national security waiver from the Jerusalem Embassy Act and, in the case of S.11 and HR 265, imposing harsh sanctions on the State Department until the embassy is moved (sanctions that would directly imperil the security of US embassies and diplomats overseas).

This week, GOP members of Congress tried another route: appealing to President-Elect Trump to live up to his commitment to move the embassy. This appeal took the form of a letter to Trump, led by DeSantis (R-FL), sent to Trump 1/11 and signed by 101 GOP colleagues. The letter states:

“Congratulations on your recent victory in the presidential election.

“During your campaign, you made a forceful pledge to move our American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. We write to express our support for this policy and urge you to take swift action to relocate our embassy to Jerusalem as soon as you take office.

“Israel is one of the United States’ closes allies and stands alone in the Middle East for its commitment to democratic ideals. Moving the embassy will strengthen the unique alliance between Israel and the United States and send a clear message to the world that we support Israel in recognizing Jerusalem as its eternal capital.

“This action is all the more urgent in light of the anti-Israel Resolution 2334, adopted by the United Nations Security Council on December 23, 2016. The resolution invites renewed diplomatic hostility and economic warfare against Israel, and we must act urgently to mitigate its consequences and to reaffirm our steadfast commitment to Israel.

“We hope you will stand with Israel on this important issue, and we look forward to working with you in the years ahead of similar matters.”

Press releases on the letter: DeSantis (R-FL), Abraham (R-LA), Curbelo (R-FL), Barletta (R-PA), Duffy (R-WI)

Bills & Resolutions Related to Cutting Off UN Funding

As noted in last week’s Round-Up, in the wake of the UN Security Council’s adopting of the resolution criticizing Israel’s settlements enterprise, some members of both the House and Senate are calling for the UN to be punished, including by completely defunding it and all of its agencies.  To be clear: what they are threatening is to effectively destroy the entire UN system (something which some of them openly endorse as a goal in itself). And to be clear, in this case they are threatening to do so, not for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of Israeli settlements. If these efforts pick up steam, it will be interesting to see if/when the Israeli government itself will weigh in, because while constantly railing against the UN is good politics for Israel, in reality participation in the UN system, including all of its various agencies, is critical to Israel’s own national security interests. And even if some members of Congress don’t seem to care much about the U.S. national security interests that would be affected by killing the UN and its agencies (discussed in detail here), maybe they will care when it is Israel that will be hurt.

(DE-FUND THE UN) S.107: Introduced with much fanfare 1/12 by Cruz (R-TX) and Graham (R-SC), and 20 all-GOP cosponsors, the “Safeguard Israel Act,” aka, “A bill to prohibit voluntary or assessed contributions to the United Nations until the President certifies to Congress that United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 has been repealed.” Cruz press release is here. Referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

  • Text of the bill is not yet posted on, but is available here.
  • Like HR 311, introduced last week by Gohmert (R-TX) – text is also STILL not online, but we know what the executive clauses of that bill contain, because Gohmert read them aloud on the House floor – S. 107 would bar any funding to the UN or any UN body (assessed or voluntary contributions) “until  the  President  certifies  to  the  appropriate  congressional committees that United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016) has been repealed.”
  • Clearing up any confusion there might be regarding what the bill is protesting, the bill text makes the Senator’s agenda crystal-clear: it is EXPLICITLY about shielding settlements, not Israel, from international pressure (“United  Nations  Security  Council  Resolution 2334  will  help  to  strengthen  the  Palestinian  diplomatic,  economic,  and  legal  warfare  campaign  against Israel,  particularly  because  of  a  paragraph  that  calls  upon  states  to  make  a  distinction  in  their  dealings  with  Israel  between  pre-1967  Israel  and  Israel  beyond  the  1967  lines,  encouraging  boycotts,  divestments, and sanctions against Israel.”)
  • As noted in last week’s Round-Up, 3 other bills to de-fund the UN were introduced last week in the House: HR 311 (still no text), HR 249 (the “Defunding United Nations Act of 2017”; blocks all voluntary – but not assessed – contributions to the UN, regardless of what happens on UNSCR 2334 or anything else), and HR 264 (blocks all UN funding until three reports required under PL 114-323 are submitted – unrelated to UNSCR 2334)). In addition, Gohmert introduced ANOTHER de-fund the UN bill this week – HR 373 (still no text, see below).

(NO $$$ FOR UN) HR 373: Introduced 1/9 by Gohmert (R-TX) and no cosponsors, “To withhold United States assessed and voluntary contributions to the United Nations, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Bills & Resolutions Related Iran

(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) HR 478: Introduced 1/12 by Poe (R-TX) and Sherman (D-CA), “To require the imposition of sanctions against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(IRGC IS A FOREIGN TERRORIST ORGANIZATION!) S.67: Introduced 1/9 by Cruz (R-TX) and Inhofe (R-OK), “A bill to direct the Secretary of State to submit to Congress a report on the designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Cruz press release is here.

(IRGC IS A FOREIGN TERRORIST ORGANIZATION!) HR 380: Introduced by McCaul (R-TX), “To direct the Secretary of State to submit to Congress a report on the designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

Bills & Resolutions Related to Other Things

(LABEL MB AS FTO) HR 377: Introduced 1/9 by Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and 20 GOP cosponsors, “To require the Secretary of State to submit a report to Congress on the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(LABEL MB AS FTO) S.68: Introduced 1/9 by Cruz (R-TX) and 3 GOP cosponsors, “A bill to require the Secretary of State to submit a report to Congress on the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Cruz press release is here.

NOTE: As noted in this article from the Washington Post, HR 377 and S. potentially far-reaching and very troubling implications for American Muslims [“Proponents of the measure, including members of Trump’s incoming administration, have long used the Muslim Brotherhood label as shorthand for Muslim organizations, politicians and government officials who they disagree with, and civil rights advocates fear those allegations could be used as pretext to investigate and alienate those who challenge the government’s treatment of Muslims”]. Likewise, they have far-reaching and dangerous implications for U.S. policy (“Michele Dunne, a Middle East and foreign-policy analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that if successful, Cruz’s effort would signify ‘the first time that the United States would declare an organization to be a foreign terrorist organization on ideological grounds.’ Typically, she said, the designation is reserved for groups that have carried out acts of terrorism against civilians or U.S. citizens. ‘The Cruz bill certainly doesn’t establish that the Brotherhood has done anything like that,’ she said, adding that the designation would put Washington on ‘a slippery slope.’ …’I think it would put the United States on a course to be subject to demands from a lot of governments around the world to get their ideological enemies to be declared terrorist organizations.’”] These negative implications are highlighted by another bill introduced this week, HR 425, “To authorize the revocation or denial of passports to individuals affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations, and for other purposes.”

(HELP CHRISTIANS & YAZIDIS IN IRAQ/SYRIA) HR 379: Introduced 1/9 by Hastings (D-FL), “To assist members of the Yazidi and Christian communities residing in Iraq and Syria, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(NEW MIDDLE EAST SANCTIONS) S.138: Introduced 1/12 by Rubio (R-FL) and Casey (D-PA), “to impose sanctions on persons that threaten the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq and to address the emergency in Syria, and for other purposes.” Text of the measure is not yet available. Referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

Confirmation Hearings- Key Excerpts

Issues related to Israel and Iran came up in a number of the confirmation hearings in the Senate this week. Notable excerpts are below.

Hearing on nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State (video – part 1, part 2, part 3)

On UNSCR 2334: Tillerson: “Israel is, has always been, and remains our most important ally in the region. They’re important to our national security. The UN resolution that was passed in my view is not helpful. I think it actually undermines setting a good set of conditions for talks to continue. The secretary’s speech which followed that U.N. resolution, I found quite troubling because of the attacks on Israel and in many ways, undermining the government of Israel itself in terms of its own legitimacy in the talks. I think in the Trump administration – the present-elect has already many it clear and if I’m confirmed, I agree entirely with support that we have to recommit – this in these statements I keep making about renewing and committing that we’re going to meet our obligations to Israel is our most important strategic partner in the region.”

On whether everything today is the Palestinians’ fault: Senator Johnson (R-WI): “Do you agree that Israel’s conceded just about every point, and at this point in time, the Palestinians just refuse to say yes?” Tillerson: “…I think there have been many, many opportunities, again, for progress to be made and those have never been seized upon. So I do think it is a matter to be discussed and decided between the two parties. To the extent America’s foreign policy engagement can create a more fruitful environment for those discussions, then I think that’s the role we can play. But at the end of it, this – this has to be settled between these two parties. “

On the two-state solution: Senator Kaine (D-VA): “…I assume you support the U.S. position that has been in place since the 1940s to do what we can, even if it’s hard, to promote a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine with a Jewish state of Israel and an independent state of Palestine, living peacefully side by side. That that is the dream that we hope for that region. And I assume that you support that.” Tillerson: “I don’t think anyone would take a position that they don’t hope for peace in that area and for the issues to be ultimately resolved.” Kaine: “And peace within the context of a two-state solution, as was – as was determined by the UN and it’s been the bipartisan policy of the United States since the late 1940s.” Tillerson: “I think that is the dream that everyone is in pursuit of. Whether it could ever be a reality, re-mains to be seen.” Kaine: “…I think this is something that has frustrated all of us, that there’s been so little progress toward it in the last few years. And so, what do you think, from the secretary of state’s position, you could do to try to hasten the day when we could find a path forward? People didn’t think you could find a peace deal between Ireland and Northern Ireland either for hundreds of years and yet youngsters in Ireland now, don’t remember when there was a problem. What might you bring to the table on that?” Tillerson: “Well, and I’m glad you put it in the context of hundreds of years… it is indicative of how conflicts like this take a long time. And sometimes, it takes another generation to have a change of view.  Oftentimes, we just have to try and make the situation as stable as possible and limit the impacts on people that are living there now. The Palestinian people have suffered a lot under their own leadership, in many cases, as a result of there not be being more progress made.  So I think it has to be a shared aspiration of all of us that that ultimately, is resolved. The issues are long standing and I think it’s the State Department’s role to create – try to create an environment that brings parties together to want to find a way forward.  I can tell you under the conditions today, that’s just – it’s extremely challenging to do that. But that has to be the aspirational goal and – and to your example, sometimes it takes a different generation that’s not carrying all that baggage of the past with them.”

On BDS & boycotts of Israel, & normalizing Israel’s relations in the region: Portman (R-OH): “One important issue for me as you know is this issue of boycott divestment and sanction movement, the so-called BDS movement, which is a global movement targeting Israel. I’ve been concerned about this for a while — introduced some legislation on it, in fact Ben Cardin and I have not just introduced but passed legislation in this regard to try and push back against the BDS forces. Recently, of course with the consent of the Obama administration, the UN Security Council passed this resolution condemning the settlements and demanding Israel cease all activities in the occupied Palestinian territories including east Jerusalem, is the way the resolution reads.  I think this will no doubt galvanize additional BDS activity. And so here’s my question to you. Would you make it a priority to counter boycott divestment and sanctions efforts against Israel is not held to double standard but instead treated as a normal member of the international community?” Tillerson: “Yes, I would.” Portman: “Any preliminary thoughts as to how you would do that?” Tillerson: “Well, I think, just by raising it in our interactions with countries that do put in place provisions that boycott whatever elements of activity or business with Israel in their country. That we begin by highlighting that we oppose that and just expressing that view and that those countries need to understand that does shade our view of them as well then.  One of the things that would, I think, help change the dynamic obviously, would be if there were a change in the dynamic regionally. Today because of Iran and the threat that Iran poses, we now find that Israel, the U.S. and the Arab neighbors in the region all share the same enemy. And this give us an opportunity to find — to discuss things that previous I think could not have been discussed.”  Portman: “You find more support among the Sunni countries in the region for Israel as a result of that new dynamic?” Tillerson: “I don’t want to speak for them Senator. But I think clearly there’s much more sharing going on between the leaders of those countries as they confront this singular threat to the whole region.” Portman: “That’s my sense and I think it’s an opportunity. On BDS we do have legislation that ties trade negotiations to dismantling BDS and would you support that legislation? It’s the law of the land and as we conduct trade negotiations, would you support using those negotiations to help dismantle the BDS efforts in those countries?” [NOTE: The lead US agency on trade negotiations is USTR, the US Trade Representative, not the State Department] Tillerson: “From the stand point of the State Departments view, if confirmed I would advocate for that position as well. Recognizing there is other agencies that would really purview over that.”

On the UN, Palestinians, & negotiations: Portman (R-OH): “What attitude do you take toward the U.N. initiatives relating to the Israeli Palestinian conflict? Is it your intention to press the Palestinians to resume negotiations with Israel, rather than seeking to negotiate through international bodies such as the U.N.? What’s your position on that?”  Tillerson: “I think as I’ve expressed in answers to a couple of other questions, and I want to be brief because I realize we’re trying to get through questions quickly. This issue has to be settled between the Israeli’s and the Palestinians and no one can be coerced into coming to the negotiating table. That will not lead to a solution. So I support the parties being allowed to deal with this speaking for themselves.”   

On the JCPOA: Coons (D-DE): “How do you think we can strengthen our hand against Iran, given their destabilizing regional actions? And in your view as you reconsider the nuclear agreement with Iran, if we withdraw from the agreement unilaterally, how will we sustain the current level of visibility we have into Iran’s nuclear program and how would that make us safer or stronger?” Tillerson: “With respect to the recent agreement to limit Iran’s ability to advance or make progress towards development of nuclear weapons, if confirmed my recommendations – and I think this is consistent with the President Elect – is now, is to do a full review of that agreement as well as any number of side agreements that I understand are part of that agreement.   Examine what – you know, whether Iran and our ability to verify whether Iran is meeting its obligations under the agreement and insure that we are enforcing all of the mechanisms available that hold them to that agreement. No one disagrees with the ultimate objective that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon. The current agreement does freeze their ability to progress but it does not ultimately deny them the ability to have a nuclear weapon. My understanding is the current agreement for instance does not deny them the ability to purchase a nuclear weapon.* It just means, it just denies them the ability to develop one. So I think there are additional areas that have to be considered. And most importantly if we choose to use this agreement as a way to provide an opportunity to discuss what comes next, because the real important question is what comes at the end of this agreement?  And what comes at the end of this agreement must be a mechanism that does in fact deny Iran the ability to develop a nuclear weapon and that means, no uranium enrichment in Iran, no nuclear materials stored in Iran.   The other side of that is what does Iran get would be through working with partners would be to provide Iran the access, the means, to peaceful uses of nuclear materials. Nuclear power, medical – medical applications and industrial applications, but that would be done under a very controlled process working with other partners to do that.  Whether Iran is prepared to chart a pathway that looks like that, we’ll only know once we engage in discussions.”

On the JCPOA, correcting his error: Coons: “…going back to an important point that you referenced in passing. I believe earlier today, you said one of the – one of the failings of the deal is it does not deny Iran the ability to purchase a nuclear weapon, and my very diligent staff has reminded me that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty does prohibit the purchase of a nuclear weapon. But more importantly, the JCPOA, which I have, in Provision Three of the general provisions at the very front says, ‘Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.’ My general approach to this agreement has been distrust and verify. I couldn’t agree with you more that Iran’s ongoing activities in their ballistic missile program, their human rights violations domestically, their support for terrorism in the region make them one of the most dangerous regimes in the world and one that deserves very close scrutiny. But I didn’t want us to move forward without some clarity that at least the paper, at least the words on the page do say that they committed to not acquiring a nuclear weapon. That was, I think, one of the positives about it…” Tillerson: “Senator, if I could correct for the record, I misspoke. And during the break, I went and checked my source for that and confirmed that I misspoke, and that in fact, their commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty – the language that was in there about ‘acquire’ some people quibble over, but, but their commitment to the NPT was clear and I misspoke in that regard.” 

Hearing on nomination of James Mattis as Secretary of Defense (video is here)

Exchange with Senator Wicker (R-MS)

Wicker (R-MS): “Let’s talk about Israel for a few moments. Would you agree that the United States shares common values and strategic interests with Israel?

Mattis “Israel is a fellow democracy, and I think Israel’s security is very, very important to the United States.”

Wicker “Are there any other democracies in the Middle East?

Mattis: “No, sir.”

Wicker: “Would you agree that the threat of Iran’s regional belligerence and nuclear ambitions are a shared threat both to the United States and to Israel?”

Mattis: “I agree, and I would add also to our Arab partners in the region.”

Wicker: “…I think you said that we’re going to have to live with what the administration has done with regard to the energy agreement with Iran. Are you confident that we can monitor the situation with regard to possible violations? Do we have that capability?”

Mattis: “I’ll have to get in and look at the classified data. If you confirm me, senator, I believe we can have it. I just can’t respond right now…”

Wicker: “In your opinion, what did the United States failure last month to veto the UN Resolution with regard to Israel do to our bilateral relationship with Israel?”

Mattis: “Sir, I’d have to get back and look at that. I say that because I’ve read what’s in the newspaper, and what’s going on in both Tel Aviv and Washington, and New York. But I do not have a very authoritative view of that right now. I think we have got to restore a better relationship with Israel, and with our Arab allies. I think there’s a sense on their part that we are indifferent to the situation they face, the security situation that they face.”

Wicker: “And we certainly don’t need to send the signal that we’re indifferent to their situation, do we?”

Mattis: “The greatest generation came home from World War II recognizing whether we like it or not, we’re part of this world, sir. We’re going to have to remember that lesson.”

Wicker: “…I realize this was a foreign policy question, but you’re going to be part of the national security, and foreign policy team, and let me say that one of my greatest concerns with regard to our failure to veto this resolution, and therefore, to let it be adopted by the UN Security council, that people argue this establishes international law. And somehow, this congress and this new administration are going to have to send a signal that we do not recognize that with regard to the Israeli presence in certain sections of Jerusalem, that we do not recognize that resolution as international law, and we are in a tough position there. If you’d like to comment on that, I’d be glad to hear your thoughts.”

Mattis: “Sir, I think ultimately we’re going to have to promote peace between the Palestinian and Israeli authorities there. And that’s going to take time to build that kind of trust, and we should be a partner in trying to build that resolution between those peoples.”

Wicker:  “When one speaks of Israel maintaining its qualitative military edge over neighbors in the region, what does that mean to you, general?”

Mattis: “Sir, it has to do with the technology of the military equipment provided. I would only add that we also have improving relations between Israel and some of those neighbors, and where we can work in terms of partnership with both Israel and the Arab neighbors, we can strengthen everyone’s security and stability in the Middle East.”

Wicker: “Do you believe their qualitative military edge needs to be revitalized?”

Mattis: “I’m not aware that it’s not vital now…”

Exchange with Senator Kaine (R-VA)

Kaine: “…you spoke, I was very glad you did, about the complex situation in the Middle East and one of the items that should be on our table, as difficult as it is, is trying to do what we can appropriately do to find a peace between Palestine and Israel. It’s difficult just like finding a peace in Ireland was difficult, but we shouldn’t give up. We played a pivotal role in that important Good Friday accord in the 1990s and it’s important we continue to play it. I’m happy that you mentioned that. Obviously this is a peace that would need to be hammered out between Palestine and Israel, Palestinians and Israelis. Should the United States military stand willing to provide security assistance, for example, as it does to provide peacekeeping along the border between Israel and Egypt in the Multinational Force Observers?

Mattis: “Senator Kaine, I’d have to look at the specific commitment before I came back and answered that question, but I don’t have a going in prohibition to engaging along those lines — I’d have to look at the actual mission.

Kaine: “If it were to be in the desire of the parties, as they are talking about a potential peace, if they saw a valuable role for the United States to play in peacekeeping between the nations, would you think that would be an appropriate use of the American military, similar to the peacekeeping we provide on the Egypt/Israel border since the late 1970s?”

Mattis: “Peace in that area, sir, is in our vital interest, and so if we could contribute, it certainly is something we should look at.”

Exchange with Senator Graham (R-SC)

Graham:  “…what’s the capital of Israel?”

Mattis: “the capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv, because that’s where all their government people are…”

Graham: “Do you agree with me the capital of Israel is Jerusalem?”

Mattis “Sir, right now I stick with the U.S. policy.”

Graham: “Do you support moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?”

Mattis “I would defer to the nominee for Secretary of State on that, Sir.”

Graham: “Do you support maintaining qualitative edge for Israel against all potential adversaries in terms of their military capability?”

Mattis “I do, Sir.”

Graham “Do you support a two-state solution?”

Mattis: “I do if that brings peace to the Middle East, I’m eager to see it work. If there’s another solution, I’d be happy to see who it is.”

Graham: “Absolutely. Who’s in charge of the Palestinian community?”

Mattis: “That’s a good question, Sir. I think there’s a number of people who think they are.”

Graham: “It would be hard to have a two-state solution if one of the parties really doesn’t have anybody in charge.”

Mattis: “There’s nothing easy about the two-state solution.”

Graham: “Do you think Hamas is a terrorist organization?”

Mattis: “I do, Sir.”

Graham: “Do you think they would abide by any agreement that the Palestinian Authority negotiated with Israel given the state of affairs as we know today?”

Mattis: “Only if forced to.”

Graham: “…When it comes to Iran, you said in terms of the agreement we have, we gave our word. Is that what you said?”

Mattis: “We did, yes, sir.”

Graham: “I think president-elect Trump gave his word to the American people, I’m going to change this deal because it’s terrible. Do you expect him to keep his word?”

Mattis: “Sir, once the national security team is confirmed, once confirmed by the Senate, I’ll work with the other members…”

Graham: “Do you think it’s a terrible deal?”

Mattis: “…to come up with a best possible situation we can make for America.”

Graham: “do you think it’s a terrible deal?”

Mattis: “It’s not a deal I would have signed, Sir.”

Graham: “How would you make it better?”

Mattis: “Sir, the first thing is I would ask the Congress to have a joint committee from Banking, Armed Services, and Intel, to oversee the implementation of the deal and should there be any abrogation, any cheating, then the Congress would be kept informed on a routine basis of what’s going on, so that you know what’s happening. At the same time, we’re going to have to make certain that our intelligence services are fully staffed to watch over them. And that involves working with our allied intelligence services that have unique capabilities to work inside the country. Further, we’d put together a combined missile defense – air and missile defense – capability for our Gulf allies so they can work together with us, and every time we catch Iran up to some kind of terrorist activity, we would take that to the United Nations and display it for the world to see.”

Graham: “Thank you very much. Do you believe Iran’s behavior outside of the nuclear program has been destabilizing in the Middle East?”

Mattis: “Absolutely.

Graham: “Do you believe when they held our sailors hostage, that was an affront to America?”

Mattis: “Yes, sir.”

Graham: “Do you believe they deserve to be sanctioned based on what they have done in the middle east, test firing missiles, that the regime deserves to be sanctioned for their actions outside of the nuclear program?”

Mattis: “I think that sanctions will work best if they are international so that they don’t — cannot evade them.”

Graham: “Are we going to give the world a veto of what we do?”

Mattis: “I would never give the world a veto.”

On the Record

Responding to Jerusalem terror attack

Pelosi (D-CA) 1/9: “The American people share in the outrage at the terror attack on Israelis in Jerusalem yesterday.  Our hearts and prayers are with the victims, with those recovering in hospitals, and with the loved ones of those whose lives were taken. The United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is and will remain unbreakable.  As partners and allies, we are committed to working together to defeat terrorism and to strengthen the security of Israel.”

Engel (D-NY) 1/9: “I strongly condemn the terrorist attack that claimed four lives in Jerusalem yesterday, and my heart goes out to all those affected.  The people of Israel live under the constant threat of terrorism, and this sort of violence will always be a roadblock to peace in the region.  The United States stands with our ally Israel in the wake of this bloodshed, and we are committed to ensuring Israel’s security over the long term.  I hope those responsible for this attack are quickly brought to justice.”

Velazquez (D-NY) 1/9: “My heart breaks at these unconscionable attacks in Israel, which took four lives and injured many others.  This violence is unacceptable and we must all condemn it in the strongest possible terms.  Like many New Yorkers, I stand in solidarity with the people of Israel during this painful time.  I pray for peace and healing.”

Connolly (D-VA) 1/9: “I am horrified by yesterday’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem, which killed four Israeli soldiers and left numerous others gravely injured. The United States must take the threats to Israel seriously and deal with them in a credible manner that both ensures Israel’s security and calls partners to our shared cause. The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to Israel’s security and our hearts go out to the victims and their families.”

Hastings (D-FL) 1/9: [hands-down winning the award for the most Bibi-like response] “…It is without question that the relentless demonization of Israel at the United Nations gives fuel to these attacks, as does the refusal of Palestinian leaders to condemn terrorism…”

Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) 1/9: “I am horrified by this most recent terrorist attack in Jerusalem, which claimed the lives of four brave Israeli soldiers. These attacks are a threat to all of us and only serve to further aggravate tensions in an already tense time. Israel is one of our closest friends and allies – working together we will defeat ISIS and all other terrorist elements.”

Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) 1/9: “My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones in this abhorrent attack and I am praying for a swift recovery for the injured. I stand, as always, with the people of Israel as they once again recover from an act of terror. I remain committed to our ally and will continue working with Israel to defeat terror and extremism in the Middle East and the world over.”

Cruz (R-TX) 1/8: “Today we saw yet another horrific attack by a Palestinian terrorist in Jerusalem. The United States stands unshakably with our ally Israel, and with the Israeli Defense Forces soldiers who were the targets of this attack. IDF soldiers bravely defend the people of Israel, protect them and keep them safe. The terrorists targeting them are the enemies of peace, which can never be achieved while terror groups like Hamas incite violence and the destruction of Israel. Our prayers are with the IDF, and with the victims of this attack and their families.”

More slamming of settlements UNSCR/Obama Admin abstention (and in support of H. Res. 11)

DeSantis (R-FL) – including call to de-fund the UN

Boozman (R-KS)

Holding (R-NC)

Roybal-Allard (D-CA)

Byrne (R-AL)

Fitzpatrick (R-PA)

Other Issues

Casey (D-PA) 1/12: “U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, also is ‘in favor of moving the embassy and believes it should be done in a thoughtful way that does not dictate terms on final status issues that should be settled by direct negotiations,’ said Jacklin Rhoads, Casey’s press secretary.

Mast (R-FL) 1/12: Discussing his service in the IDF

Isakson (R-GA) 1/12: Isakson Presses Tillerson on Renewed Leadership in Middle East, Leveraging ‘Soft Power’ to Achieve Goals

Franks (R-AZ) 1/11: Indicting Obama for his policies on Israel and Iran, among other things (“…he consistently expressed more open rebuke toward Israel for building houses in its capital city than he expressed for Iran’s efforts to build nuclear weapons with which to existentially threaten Israel along with the peace and security of the entire human family” and “…he orchestrated and failed to veto a resolution that undermines Israel’s very right to exist…it was a cowardly act of political treachery that disgraced the United States, and it will send Barack Obama’s name down the corridor of history as on overt traitor to the State of Israel.”

Long (R-MO) 1/10: Oped – Standing with Israel is the right thing to do

Taylor (R-VA) 1/10: “Clearly, the Iranians understand that approaching our deployed ships in international waters, after repeated warnings against, verges on an act of war. Our military should always take proper action to defend itself and our interests. It is my hope that the time for a weak foreign policy with bad actors, like the Iranians playing with fire, ends January 20th. They should consider themselves lucky it was only warning shots fired at them.”

Schumer (D-NY) 1/10: On Trump nominations, raising concerns about nominee for SecState Rex Tillerson related to Exxon’s dealing with Iran

Gohmert (R-TX) 1/10: Extended rant, including (among other things) accusing Obama on UNSCR: “We stabbed our friend, Israel, in the back” and putting into the record an article by Victor Davis Hanson (slamming Kerry & Obama on Israel-Palestine)

Lance (R-NJ) 1/9: Lance: Move American Embassy to Jerusalem (announces introduction “today” of bill that he actually introduced on 1/4 – HR 265 – maybe he forget to issue the press release earlier)

Leahy (D-VT) 1/9: Noting that the previous week the junior Senator from Texas (Cruz) had wholly misrepresented SecState Kerry’s Israel-Palestine speech (“Anyone who reads Secretary Kerry’s speech will recognize the fallacy of those baseless and inflammatory accusations”), and putting SecState Kerry’s entire Israel-Palestine speech into the record & urging Senators to read it

McCollum (D-MN) 1/9: Extension of remarks on her opposition to opposition to H. Res. 11, slamming the settlements UNSCR & Obama abstention (“…H. Res. 11 ignores the history of this conflict, distorts decades of bipartisan U.S. policy and completely disregards the facts on the ground today. The U.S. abstention on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 was not an aberration in the history of our relationship with Israel. Dating back to President Johnson, both Republican and Democratic Administrations have repeatedly abstained from U.N. Security Council resolutions related to Israel. These abstentions have often been at odds with the position of the Israeli government…  H. Res. 11 embraces the extreme policies of the Netanyahu government that are designed to make the two-state solution impossible, and I oppose it precisely because I am committed to securing a lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.”)

Photo: Rex Tillerson

Lara Friedman

Lara Friedman is the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP). With more than 25 years working in the Middle East foreign policy arena, Lara is a leading authority on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, with particular expertise on the Israeli-Arab conflict, Israeli settlements, Jerusalem, and the role of the U.S. Congress. She is published widely in the U.S. and international press and is regularly consulted by members of Congress and their staffs, by Washington-based diplomats, by policy-makers in capitals around the world, and by journalists in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to her work at FMEP, Lara is a non-resident fellow at the U.S./Middle East Project (USMEP). Prior to joining FMEP, Lara was the director of policy and government relations at Americans for Peace Now, and before that she was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, serving in Jerusalem, Washington, Tunis and Beirut. She holds a B.A. from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service; in addition to English, Lara speaks French, Arabic, Spanish, (weak) Italian, and muddles through in Hebrew.



  1. Lara is a saint. How can she even bear to read all the lies and the repetitions of the ridiculous claims by American reps whose only interest seems to be Israel and/or its illegal colonies and how beneficial they are to the USA, with no evidence of course.

    “I stand, as always, with the people of Israel as they once again recover from an act of terror.”
    Any normal country, which Israel likes to claim to be, knows that soldiers illegally occupying another people’s land are fair game for resistance, but Palestinians are given no human rights or even feelings by these loyal Americans. Names like Gohmert, Cruz, Pelosi, Rubio relentlessly assail us with waffle.

    Thanks to Lara!

  2. At first blush this comment by Lara seems to be absurd: “…. in reality participation in the UN system, including all of its various agencies, is critical to Israel’s own national security interests.” Given the UN is completely biased against Israel and condemns Israel more than any number of terrible Arab nations combined, given UN peacekeepers never stopped invasions or terrorist attacks, and given UN funds schools teaching anti-Jew incitement, exactly what good is the UN to Israel. Perhaps if the UN is slapped down, that would help Israel, but it is hard to see how it would be harmed.

    Anyone care to explain?

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