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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (Nov. 2-11)

Congress Calls for an End to Palestinian Incitement Since the recent outbreak of Palestinian violence began in mid-September, Congress has made clear to Palestinian leadership that terrorist attacks and incitement to violence must stop. The first two weeks of November saw three congressional actions addressing Palestinian violence that has left 11 Israelis dead and more than one hundred injured. On Nov. 2, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted bipartisan resolution H. Res. 293, condemning Palestinian incitement to violence and the recent wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel. Authored by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL), the resolution urges President Abbas and other PA officials to discontinue all incitement and exert influence to discourage such activity within Palestinian civil society. The resolution also expresses support for individuals and organizations working to encourage cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, and directs the State Department to monitor and publish information about incitement by the PA. On Nov. 5, 369 members of the House of Representatives sent a bipartisan letter to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on Nov. 5 urging him to stop Palestinian incitement to violence.  The letter, which calls on President Abbas to take “concrete steps to avoid further violence,” was spearheaded by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY).  “Now is the time for the Palestinian Authority to take concrete steps to avoid further violence,” wrote the representatives. “This starts with a sustained effort to publicly and officially repudiate these attacks, ending the unacceptable incitement to violence emanating from Palestinian Authority officials and institutions, continuing important security cooperation with Israel and agreeing to unconditionally renew direct talks with the Israelis.” On Nov. 10, the Senate passed bipartisan resolution S. Res. 302, expressing support for Israel and condemnation of Palestinian terror attacks. The resolution was authored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).  Obama and Netanyahu Vow to Strengthen U.S.-Israel Ties On Nov. 9 at the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama to discuss increased security cooperation between their two countries. The meeting focused on expediting talks on a new 10-year U.S. security assistance package to Israel. The current memorandum of understanding, which is set to expire in 2017, provides the Israel Defense Forces with $3.1 billion annually. An American team will travel to Israel in early December to continue the negotiations, which are expected to last for several months. Prior to the meeting, President Obama said, "A lot of our time will be spent on a memorandum of understanding that we can potentially negotiate. It will be expiring in a couple of years, but we want to get a head start on that to make sure that both the United States and Israel can plan effectively for our defense needs going forward."  While sitting next to President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed “… the appreciation of the people of Israel to you for your efforts…and what you’re engaging in right now -- how to bolster Israel’s security, how to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge so that Israel can, as you’ve often said, defend itself, by itself, against any threat.” The president and prime minister both condemned the recent wave of Palestinian violence in Israel and emphasized the need for a peace agreement. "I want to be very clear that we condemn, in the strongest terms, Palestinian violence against innocent Israeli citizens. And I want to repeat, once again, it is my strong belief that Israel has not just the right, but the obligation to protect itself," Obama said.  He also stated his desire to see peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.  "We'll never give up our hope for peace,” concurred Netanyahu. “And I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.” Congress Overwhelmingly Authorizes U.S.-Israel Missile Defense Funds On Nov. 10, the Senate voted 91-3 to advance the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including substantial U.S.-Israel cooperative missile defense funding. The House of Representatives voted 370-58 to approve the measure on Nov. 5. Overall, the NDAA authorizes $474 million for U.S.-Israel missile and rocket defense programs. The legislation also authorizes $25 million in research and development funding to develop a joint U.S.-Israel anti-tunneling defense system, which could be used to protect Israel and U.S. forces from terrorist attacks. In addition, the bill requires a report on the military power of Iran and expresses the sense of Congress that Iran continues to conduct a range of malign activities that threaten U.S. national security interests.  The bill now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature.  The authorization is part of a two-step process. The actual funding will be allocated through an appropriations bill, which is expected to be voted on before the end of the year. Senate Letter Presses the President to Prioritize New MOU with Israel A group of 16 senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to prioritize a new security assistance Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) during his Nov. 9 meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington D.C. Authored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the letter states that a robust MOU will “deepen the U.S.-Israel strategic partnership based on a shared understanding of the threats Israel faces in the region.” “As threats in the region continue to evolve, we urge you to engage at the highest levels to continue a process to develop a shared understanding of the threat environment confronting Israel, and to take bold steps to strengthen the MOU that serves as the foundation of our bilateral security efforts,” wrote the senators. “The United States and Israel have an unparalleled history of friendship and cooperation.”  The letter was co-signed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Robert Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Edward Markey (D-MA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Warner (D-VA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Bill Nelson (D-FL).  Congressional Committees Examine Iranian Support of Terrorism Congress recently held three hearings to assess Iran’s increased support of terrorism. On Nov. 4, the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight discussed implications—stemming from the Iran nuclear agreement—on restricting U.S. taxpayers from receiving foreign tax credits for business completed in Iran. In his opening statement, subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-IL) called on the administration to continue enforcing anti-terror provisions in the U.S. tax code. “The tax provisions we are discussing today are in our jurisdiction and are related to Iran’s support for terrorism, not nuclear proliferation. It is that support for terrorism which triggers them, so they can and should remain in effect outside of the framework of the nuclear agreement. I hope that we can work on a bipartisan basis to fight and defeat terrorism, and examine how we can strengthen these tax provisions to achieve that goal,” Roskam said. In a separate Nov. 4 hearing, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight deliberated on the federal government’s failure to support American victims of Iranian and Palestinian terror.  According to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the committee’s chairman, “Americans … have fought hard to ensure that justice is done in these situations, only to see their own government more often than not stand against them." Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), the committee’s ranking member, agreed that the federal government needs to improve its compensation to victims, and called for laying the groundwork for a bipartisan bill to fix shortcomings. On Nov. 5, the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security held a hearing on Iran’s power projection capability.  Subcommittee Chairman Ron DeSantis (R-FL) warned that sanctions relief tied to the Iran nuclear agreement could facilitate increased Iranian support for terrorism and malign activities in the Middle East. Ranking Member Stephen Lynch (D-MA) concurred that Iran is a destabilizing force in the region, and “would continue to be so in the future.”  Members of Congress Oppose New EU Guidelines on Labeling Israeli Products Members of Congress from both parties have expressed opposition to the European Commission’s adoption of guidelines calling on European Union (EU) member states to impose a new labeling policy on certain products made by Israeli companies imported into the EU.  On Nov. 12 Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Juan Vargas (D-CA) sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, urging him to utilize the anti-boycott provisions in the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation “to express opposition to these new labeling guidelines and any further actions they might be contemplating to restrict commerce with Israel, isolate Israel and exert unilateral economic pressure on Israel to make political concessions outside of the negotiating process.” On Nov. 9, a bipartisan group of 36 senators sent a letter to European Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini condemning the new labeling guidelines. The letter, authored by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), called the new procedure “unwarranted, dangerous, and damaging.” “As allies, elected representatives of the American people, and strong supporters of Israel, we urge you not to implement this labeling policy, which appears intended to discourage Europeans from purchasing these products and promote a de-facto boycott of Israel, a key ally and the only true democracy in the Middle East,” wrote the senators.   On Nov. 10, 36 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Vice President Mogherini arguing that the new guidelines support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.  The letter, led by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), states that the “policy of labeling Israeli good will not be helpful in bringing peace to the region.” “It is our belief that the BDS movement and its effort to smear Israel are connected with the recent rise in acts of anti-Semitism,” the representatives wrote. “We believe it would be ill-advised to endorse a policy that likewise singles out Israel and holds it to different standards than any other country. What’s more, such policies seem extremely ill-fitted and discriminatory at a time when Israeli citizens are under daily attacks, stemming from the malign incitement of the Palestinian leadership.”

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