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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (Dec. 16, 2016 - Jan. 12, 2017)


House Overwhelmingly Passes Bipartisan Measure Opposing Anti-Israel U.N. Resolution

On Jan. 5, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan measure (H. Res. 11) by a 342-80-4 vote. Authored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), H. Res. 11 puts Congress on record as opposing United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2334.

On Dec. 23, the United States broke longstanding policy of vetoing one-sided, anti-Israel U.N. resolutions and instead abstained from the vote on UNSCR 2334, thereby allowing it to pass. 

H. Res. 11 criticizes America’s abstention from the vote and denounces the U.N. resolution as “an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace.” It further reiterates that direct bilateral negotiations between the two parties are the only path to a “durable and sustainable peace agreement.”

The bipartisan resolution also calls for UNSCR 2334 to be repealed or significantly altered, and urges on the U.S. government to veto any similar U.N. resolutions. 

Representatives from both parties have praised the passage of the bipartisan H. Res. 11. 

“America will always stand with Israel. Congress and the American people know that the U.N. has a long and disgraceful history of unjustly condemning Israel, and our nation has routinely vetoed anti-Israel U.N. resolutions for being ill-founded, unfair, and for undermining the prospects of peace with the Palestinians,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).


“In supporting this House resolution, we are expressing our deep concern regarding the decision to abstain in the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334,” stated House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). “A one-sided resolution that assigns exclusive blame to Israel for the continuation of the conflict—without addressing Palestinian incitement of violence, Hamas control of Gaza, or their continued insistence [on] the so-called ‘right of return’ and refusing to accept Israel as the Jewish state—undermines prospects for a two-state solution.”

“Today, we put Congress on record objecting to the recent U.N. Security Council Resolution that hurt our ally Israel and, I believe, puts an Israeli-Palestinian settlement of two states for two people further out of reach,” stated Chairman Royce. 

“The Security Council resolution is highly critical of Israel, yet asks nothing directly of the Palestinians. That’s biased, that’s unfair, that’s not balanced and, again, we should have opposed it. We should have vetoed it,” said Ranking Member Engel.


Members of Congress Respond to One-Sided United Nations Security Council Resolution


On Dec. 23, the United States abstained from voting against an anti-Israel resolution at the United Nations Security Council.

Members of Congress from both parties have spoken out against the United States’ decision to abstain from the vote instead of exercising its veto. The complete compilation can be found here.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)


“Today the United States carried the responsibility to veto any resolution before the United Nations that sought to isolate Israel within the international community, or to illogically destroy any semblance of a peace process by encouraging the Palestinians to forego direct negotiations.


“The past eight years of the Obama administration have been replete with actions that have abandoned our allies and turned away from our commitments. Today's decision taken by the President to abstain from this vote—to fail to act on behalf of an ally—represents a failure of leadership and judgment. It is highly regrettable that one of President Obama's last actions in office was again to abandon our ally Israel.  In the weeks ahead I am committed to working with the new administration and my colleagues in Congress to reassure our ally Israel that America's commitment to the two-state solution—achieved in a manner which protects Israel's vital national security interest—is unswerving.”


Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY)


“It is extremely frustrating, disappointing and confounding that the Administration has failed to veto this resolution. Whatever one’s views are on settlements, the U.N. is the wrong forum to settle these issues. The U.N. has been a fervently anti-Israel body since the days of ‘Zionism is racism’ and, unfortunately, that fervor has never diminished. Knowing this, past Administrations—both Democrat and Republican—have protected Israel from the vagaries of this biased institution. Unfortunately, this Administration has not followed in that path and its actions will move us further from peace in the Middle East.”


Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI)


“This is absolutely shameful. Today's vote is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel. Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel."


House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)


"The two-state solution has been the bedrock of peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians for decades.  The resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council today does not bring us closer to this goal."


House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)


“No matter the misguided actions of the Obama Administration, America’s relationship with Israel is strong. Refusing to veto an anti-Israel U.N. resolution will do absolutely nothing to promote peace in the region and only continues this Administration’s policy of undermining our allies. The new Republican government looks forward to working with our ally Israel and will stand up at the United Nations to prevent future ill-conceived resolutions.”


House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)


"As a proud leader of the bipartisan coalition in Congress in support of our ally Israel, I am extremely disappointed by this action and today's vote. Blaming Israel for the continuation of the conflict is not only wrong and unjust; it will also do nothing to move the parties closer to a peaceful and lasting solution.


"This resolution ignores the culpability of Palestinian leaders and groups for engaging in violent acts, inciting violence against civilians, and delegitimizing Jews' ancient and historic connection to the land. Furthermore, the United States's abstention risks lending legitimacy to efforts by Palestinians to impose their own solution through international fora and trough unjustified boycotts or divestment campaigns. Only direct, bilateral negotiations can bring an end to this conflict. Neither the international community nor the United States can impose one. I join in expressing my very significant disagreement with the Administration's decision to abstain."


Iran Sanctions Extension Act Becomes Law


On Dec. 15, the bipartisan Iran Sanctions Extension Act (H. R. 6297) was enacted into law. The bill passed with overwhelming majorities in Congress—419-1 in the House on Nov. 15 and a unanimous 99-0 in the Senate on Dec 1. 

President Barack Obama declined to sign the measure, but the legislation still entered into force. Under the Constitution, the president has 10 days to sign or veto a bill once passed by Congress. If he fails to do so in that period of time, the bill becomes law if Congress is still in session; if Congress has adjourned, the bill is “pocket vetoed.” Although most members of Congress went home for the holidays, Congress technically remained in session at the end of the 10-day period by holding “pro-forma” sessions.

Authored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), the legislation extends the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) for an additional 10 years. Originally passed in 1996 and set to expire at the end of December 2016, ISA targets investments in Iran’s energy sector, the leading segment of the Iranian economy. The law played a role in pushing Iran to negotiate its illicit nuclear program, ultimately leading to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.  

“Iran’s support for terrorism, and its push to develop a missile capable of striking the United States, is a direct threat to our national security,” said Royce. “This law ensures the U.S. retains its ability to hold the regime accountable.”

“The Iran Sanctions Act is a crucial part of ensuring Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal. The sanctions authorized in this law show Iran's leaders exactly what they will face if they don't live up to their end of the bargain,” said Engel. “This law does not violate our obligations under the deal. In fact, extending it continues the sanctions law already in place, and there should have been no expectation that Congress would permanently lift sanctions barely a year into the deal. So I'm pleased that this ten-year extension has gone forward.”


United States Denounces Terrorist Attack in Jerusalem


The United States led the international community in condemning a fatal truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem that killed four Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers and injured at least 16 others.

On Jan. 7, Fadi al-Qunbar, a 28-year-old Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, plowed a large truck into a group of IDF soldiers touring the Haas-Sherover Promenade. The assailant then reversed the vehicle and struck the soldiers a second time before being shot and killed by Israeli security forces. The four slain victims were identified as Lt. Yael Yekutiel, 20, Cadet Shir Hajaj, 22, Cadet Shira Tzur, 20, and Cadet Erez Orbach, 20. 

The White House responded with a statement: “The United States condemns in the strongest terms today's horrific terrorist attack in Jerusalem, which killed four Israeli soldiers and wounded many others. We offer our full support to our Israeli partners as they work to determine who was behind the attack. Such cowardly acts can never be justified, and we call on all to send a clear and unequivocal message that terrorism must never be tolerated. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims and our hopes for quick and full recovery for those who were wounded.”

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms today’s horrific vehicular attack by a terrorist in Jerusalem,” echoed the U.S. State Department. “There is absolutely no justification for these brutal and senseless attacks. We‎ condemn the glorification of terrorism now or at any time and call on all to send a clear message that terrorism must never be tolerated. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the four Israeli soldiers who were killed, and we hope for a full and fast recovery of those injured.”

The U.S. Defense Department also denounced the attack, stating, “We condemn in the strongest terms possible today's terrorist attack that targeted Israel's defense forces and express our deepest condolences to the victims. The United States remains committed to Israel's security and will stand with Israel to combat all forms of terrorism.‎”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said in Hebrew that he “vehemently condemns the terrorist attack in Jerusalem in which IDF troops were killed. Condolences to the families of the deceased and prayers for recovery to those injured.”

Key U.S.-Israel Cybersecurity Legislation Signed Into Law


On Dec. 16, President Barack Obama signed the United States-Israel Advanced Research Partnership Act of 2016 (H. R. 5877) into law.

Passed by the House on the Nov. 29 and the Senate on Dec. 10, the bill permanently authorizes an already-existing three-year joint program between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Israel's Ministry of Public Security, and expands it to include cybersecurity cooperation. Currently, the focus of the program is wearable technologies for first responders.

Another U.S.-Israel cybersecurity bill—the United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2016 (H.R. 5843)—passed the House by voice vote on Nov. 29, but was unable to clear the Senate before Congress adjourned. This piece of legislation would establish a cybersecurity grant program for joint research and development opportunities between Israeli and American entities. The bill is likely to be reintroduced in the next Congress. 


The two bills were cosponsored by Reps. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) and Jim Langevin (D-RI) following a trip to Israel last May, where they met with Israeli cybersecurity leaders in the public and private spheres. 


United States Issues New Sanctions on Hezbollah Operatives


On Jan. 9, the U.S. State Department imposed new sanctions on two individuals for their connection to the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah. 

The State Department designated Ali Damush and Mustafa Mughniyeh as Specially Designated Global Terrorists pursuant to Executive Order 13224. As a result, all of their U.S. property and interests are frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.  

According to the State Department, Damush and Mughniyeh are both members of Hezbollah’s senior leadership and play key roles in organizing Hezbollah’s international terrorist infrastructure. Damush oversees Hezbollah’s Foreign Relations Department, which coordinates the group’s international covert operations. Mughniyeh leads the Iranian proxy’s military operations in the Golan Heights. 

Mughniyeh is also closely related to two deceased, former Hezbollah commanders: his father, Imad Mughniyeh, and his uncle, Mustafa Badreddine. 

“The imposition of sanctions by the United States against terrorists like Damush and Mughniyeh is a powerful tool. Today’s action notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Ali Damush and Mustafa Mughniyeh are actively engaged in terrorism,” said the State Department.


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