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.]
Note: This week NIAC published a very useful resource entitled, “Key Legislative Principles to Uphold the U.S.’s JCPOA Commitments.”
Bills, Resolutions & Letters
(NO AID FOR PALESTINIANS) S.474: Introduced 2/28 by Graham (R-SC) and having 8 GOP cosponsors, “A bill to condition assistance to the West Bank and Gaza on steps by the Palestinian Authority to end violence and terrorism against Israeli citizens.” As has been noted in past Round-Ups, the U.S. aid program for the Palestinians is already probably the most scrutinized, vetted, conditioned, and restricted aid program the U.S. has anywhere in the world – but that has never been an obstacle to adding more conditions. Press releases: Graham; Rubio (R-FL); Cotton (R-AR); Cruz (R-TX). This bill (and its House counterpart, of HR 1164, which was introduced 2/16 by Lamborn (R-CO) and Zeldin (R-NY) and covered in the last Round-Up – their 2/28 press release is here), was also introduced in the last congress but went nowhere (HR 6389 and S. 3414). So far this bill is NOT on AIPAC’s website as a measure they are supporting, but AIPAC is reportedly under pressure to get on board (reportedly for this to happen, and to get Dems on board, the bill is going to have to be tweaked). Concerns about the bill are many – read this piece for one take on the issue here. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
(INTERNATIONAL FUND FOR ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE) HR 1221: Introduced 2/27 by Fortenberry (R-NE) and Crowley (D-NY), “To seek the establishment of and contributions to an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This bill is getting wide endorsement from Jewish organizations, including ALLMEP (a supporting group and advocate for the fund globally), the ADL, AJC, JFNA, JCPA, Israel Action Network (IAN), and FNCL (J street supported it in the last congress). Read more in the JTA and Haaretz. Crowley press release is here.
(DEFENSE APPOPRIATIONS) HR XXX: On 3/2 the House Appropriations Committee introduced the final version of the FY17 Defense Appropriations bill, which will be considered on the House floor next week. The HAC press release notes that, “The bill closely reflects the Defense Appropriations bill the House passed last summer, and is consistent with the final National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017.” With respect to Israel, the press release notes: “In total, $600.7 million is provided for Israel Cooperative Programs. This includes $332 million for equipment procurement and $269 million in research and development – $455 million above the previous Administration’s request. An additional $43 million is also included for Israeli anti-tunneling efforts.” Press release is here. For details of the DOD Approps bill from last summer, see the 6/17/16 edition of the Round-Up.
(CHALLENGING THE JCPOA) Zeldin et al letter to SecState: On 3/2, Reps. Zeldin (R-NY) and Roskam (R-IL) led a letter, signed by 43 fellow GOP House members, to SecState Tillerson posing a series of questions about the JCPOA (all implying varying degrees of subterfuge or malfeasance by the Obama Administration). Press release is here.
(DANGERS OF DISMANTLING THE JCPOA) Foster et al letter to Trump: Rep. Foster (D-IL) led a letter to President Trump, co-signed by 60 House Democrats, urging him to preserve the JCPOA, which they argue has made the U.S., Israel and the world safer. The letter goes on to warn that “we did not negotiate the deal alone, but if we walk away, we will walk away alone.” Foster was interviewed by the Hill (article and video) about the issue, here.
(AFFIRMING SUPPORT FOR 2SS) Price-Connolly letter to Trump: On 2/28 Reps. Price (D-NC) and Connolly (D-VA) circulated a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to President Trump urging him to “reaffirm the United States’ long-standing, bipartisan commitment to supporting a just and lasting two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
(QUESTIONS TO DAVID FRIEDMAN) Sanders letter: The JTA reported that Sen. Sanders (D-VT) last week handed a letter to David Friedman – nominee for next U.S. ambassador to Israel. In the letter he reportedly asked Friedman if he would support using funds earmarked for assistance to Israel to help rebuild the Gaza Strip [note: it is not clear how this would work, since all U.S. funding for Israel is in the form of military assistance], and if he thinks the tax-exempt status of groups that fundraise for settlers should be reviewed.
(WAR CRIMES IN SYRIA) SFRC letter to SecState: On 2/22 SFRC Chairman and Ranking Member Corker (R-TN) and Cardin (D-MD) led a bipartisan letter, signed by 12 additional SFRC members, to SecState Tillerson, “seeking an update on U.S. plans to demand accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Syrian civil war.” Press release is here.
(SYRIA STUDY GROUP) Shaheen letter to SFOPS Leaders: On 2/21 Sen. Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Chairman Graham (R-SC) and Ranking Member Leahy (D-VT), calling for the establishment (and funding) of a Syria Study Group, similar to the Iraq Study Group established by Congress in 2006.
Hearings & Briefings
***Rumors were swirling in the Senate this week that the SFRC would hold a business meeting the morning of 3/9 to vote on David Friedman’s nomination as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. As of late afternoon on 3/3, reports were that the meeting had been taken off the agenda for the time being writing. Stay tuned. In the meantime, more legislators (House and Senate) are going on the record opposing Friedman’s nomination (and one key Democrat, Menendez, D-NJ, failed to shock anyone with comments apparently in support of the nomination). For a complete run-down of member statements/positions (as well as for statements from groups opposing the nomination, including APN), see the excellent resource page published by FCNL, here.
On the Record
Cruz (R-TX) and McCaul (R-TX) 3/3: Op-ed in USAToday- “Hold Iran accountable for terrorism” [linking Iran to 9/11 attacks and making the case for, among other things, military action “to aggressively target the al-Qaeda facilitation networks operating in Iran, work to shut them down, and bring those responsible to justice.”
Franken (D-MN) 3/1: “During an interview in his Washington Senate office on Monday, Sen. Al Franken told the Jewish World that he will vote against the confirmation of David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel…”
Huffman (D-CA) 2/28: Rep. Huffman Brings Jason and Yeganeh Rezaian to President’s Address to a Joint Session of Congress (Jason Rezaian’s powerful op-ed on the experience is here).
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 2/28: “I also support the efforts to codify sanctions against Russia and to
limit the lifting of executive waivers. But we should be limiting the ability to waive sanctions not just on Russia, but also on Iran, on the Palestinian Authority, and on so many others because, in order for
sanctions to be effective, they must be fully implemented and fully enforced.” [Code for cutting off aid to the Palestinians and closing Palestinian office in the U.S.]
Buchanan (R-FL) 2/27: Buchanan Returns from Counter-Terrorism Mission in Middle East
Hastings (D-FL) 2/27: Hastings Makes 18th Trip to Israel and Attends 17th Annual OSCE PA Winter Meeting
Merkley (D-OR) 2/27: Letter to a constituent laying out his opposition to David Friedman as ambassador to Israel
Peters (D-CA) 2/24: Rep. Peters: CNN Video Confirms Friedman Wrong Choice for Ambassador to Israel
Noem (R-SD) 2/24: “…At the same time, it’s necessary we weaken the economic backing of terror groups. One of the worst outcomes of President Obama’s deal with Iran was that it flooded Iran with cash. Iran, one of the world’s largest state sponsors of terrorism, received almost immediate sanctions relief, producing an economic impact of as much as $150 billion. I’m optimistic we’ll be able to work with the Trump administration to cut off terrorism’s economic engines.”
Lujan Grisham (D-NM) 2/22: Lujan Grisham Responds to Israeli Ambassador Comments about Mexico Border Wall
Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) 2/22: “If the United States truly seeks a lasting peace in the Middle East, President Trump’s choice to be our country’s next envoy to Israel is the wrong man. David Friedman will bring only a lengthy record of conflict and provocation to the job.”
Photo of Lindsey Graham by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.