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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (Sept. 16 - Oct. 15, 2016)

Bipartisan Senate Letter Urges President to Veto One-Sided Resolutions

On Sept. 19, 88 senators sent a bipartisan letter to President Barack Obama urging him to maintain longstanding U.S. policy and veto any one-sided United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Led by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mike Rounds (R-SD), the bipartisan letter emphasizes that the only viable solution to achieve enduring peace is through direct, bilateral negotiations between the parties. 

“At a time of great challenges in the Middle East, we are disappointed that talks between Israelis and Palestinians remain stalled,” wrote the senators. “The only way to resolve the conflicts between the two is through direct negotiations that lead to a sustainable two-state solution with a future state of Palestine living in peace and security with Israel.”

The senators underscored that, “Even well-intended initiatives at the United Nations (UN) risk locking the parties into positions that will make it more difficult to return to the negotiating table and make the compromises necessary for peace. The United States remains an indispensable trusted mediator between the parties, and we must continue to insist that neither we nor any other outsider substitute for the parties to the conflict.” 

In April 2016, 394 House members sent a similar bipartisan letter urging the president to oppose U.N. initiatives that seek to bypass direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and impose a unilateral solution.

Obama and Netanyahu Reaffirm Strength of U.S.-Israel Relationship

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Sept. 21 at the United Nations General Assembly in New York to discuss U.S.-Israel relations. 

Both leaders expressed positivity about the current state of the relationship and its future. 

“The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable,” said President Obama before the meeting. “It is based on common values, family ties, a recognition that a Jewish state of Israel is one of our most important allies, and a guiding principle throughout my presidency -- one that I've expressed often to the Prime Minister -- is, is that it is important for America’s national security to ensure that we have a safe and secure Israel, one that can defend itself.

“Israel has no greater friend than the United States of America, and America has no greater friend than Israel,” added Prime Minister Netanyahu. “Our alliance has grown decade after decade, through successive presidents, a bipartisan Congress, and the overwhelming support of the American people.”

On Sept.14, the United States and Israel reached a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that pledged $38 billion in U.S. security assistance to Israel over 10 years starting in Fiscal Year 2019. The agreement includes $33 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds and $5 billion for missile defense assistance. 

“I want to thank you for the Memorandum of Understanding that we signed last week,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu. “It greatly enhances Israel’s security. It fortifies the principle that you’ve enunciated many times that Israel should be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

“What it [the MOU] does is provide an assurance and a foundation for the kinds of ongoing military and intelligence cooperation that has been the hallmark of our relationship. It allows I think Israeli planners the kind of certainty in a moment where there’s enormous uncertainty in the region.  It is a very difficult and dangerous time in the Middle East, and we want to make sure that Israel has the full capabilities it needs in order to keep the Israeli people safe and secure,” said President Obama. 

Congress Continues Focus on Iran

On Oct. 5, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) led a letter of seven Democratic senators calling for the clean reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) before it expires on December 31, 2016.

The senators sent a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to prioritize passing the reauthorization of ISA when the Senate returns next month.

Signatories included Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (R-OR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

“Passing this vital legislation before its expiration is crucial to ensuring with the utmost certainty that the United States will continue to have the sanctions enforcement mechanism our national security demands,” the senators wrote.

Separately on Oct. 5, Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), and Grace Meng (D-NY) wrote to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman urging him to oppose Iran’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization.

 As first reported by The Wall Street Journal, the lawmakers warn that allowing Iran’s admission to the international body could constrain future efforts to impose sanctions if needed.

In the letter, the lawmakers wrote: “In addition to further empowering and enriching Iran’s tyrannical regime, Iranian accession to the WTO could seriously complicate our ability to combat Iran’s support for terrorism, human rights violations, ballistic missile program and other illicit activity.”

They also urge the U.S. to “take all necessary steps to ensure the viability of the sanctions regime against Iran.”

Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Protect Israel from Economic Discrimination

On Sept. 29, Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Juan Vargas (D-CA) announced the introduction of bipartisan legislation, the Protecting Israel Against Economic Discrimination Act, to further combat the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

The Protecting Israel Against Economic Discrimination Act would formally state Congress’s opposition to a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution that calls for the creation of a “blacklist” of companies that operate in or have business relationships beyond Israel’s 1949 Armistice Lines.

To prevent the implementation of similar “blacklists” in the future, it would amend the Export Administration Act of 1979 to prohibit boycotts or requests for boycotts imposed by international governmental organizations against Israel. The legislation would also ensure that the Export Import Bank considers BDS issues when evaluating potential credit applications.

“Opponents of Israel around the world and in international organizations have increasingly promoted efforts to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel as a way to delegitimize and isolate Israel, while bypassing the direct negotiation process necessary to resolve political disagreements,” Sen. Portman said. “The United States must support Israel by using the considerable economic and diplomatic tools at our disposal to stand up to this economic discrimination against our ally.”

“The United States should bring its foreign policy and its economic institutions, its relationships, and its leverage to bear to combat boycott, divestment, and sanctions actions against Israel,” said Sen. Cardin, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We should not stand idle when foreign countries or international governmental organizations use BDS tactics to isolate one of our key allies. We cannot allow these attempts to bypass direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to go unchecked.”

Members of Congress Introduce Bills Urging U.S. to Veto One-Sided UN Resolutions

On Sept. 29, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CN) and Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced bipartisan concurrent resolutions urging the United States “to oppose and veto United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to impose solutions to final status issues, or are one-sided and anti-Israel.”

The resolution, cautions that “efforts by outside bodies, including the United Nations Security Council, to impose an agreement or parameters for an agreement are likely to set back the cause of peace,” adding: “international recognition of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood outside of the context of a peace agreement with Israel would cause severe harm to the peace process.”

IRGC Sanctions Bill Advances House Panel

On Sept. 27, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade just unanimously marked up H.R. 3693, the IRGC Terrorist Sanctions Act of 2015.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), would require the Treasury Department to issue a report within 30 days detailing whether Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) meets the requirements for designation as a terrorist entity. 

Netanyahu Meets with Representatives from 15 African Countries at UNGA

On Sept. 22, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York with more than 15 African heads of state and representatives.

According to the Prime Minister Office’s readout of the meeting, “Prime Minister Netanyahu told his interlocutors that he believes that Israel could be an amazing partner for their countries. He said that technology changes everything, including in communications, medicine, agriculture and education. He noted that Israel wants to share its technology with African countries.”

Earlier this year, the prime minister became the first Israeli leader in nearly three decades to visit sub-Saharan Africa.

“I would like to visit every country in Africa. Israel is looking at all of Africa, and I hope all of Africa looks at Israel,” wrote Prime Minister Netanyahu in a social media post following the meeting. 

During his UNGA speech, Netanyahu stated that “governments are changing their attitudes towards Israel because they know that Israel can help them protect their peoples, can help them feed them, can help them better their lives. I had an unbelievable opportunity to see this change so vividly during an unforgettable visit to four African countries…Israeli technology can help them in their efforts to transform their countries. In Africa, things are changing.” 

House Committee Advances U.S.-Israel Cyber Bill

On Sept. 13, the House Homeland Security Committee advanced the United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2016, introduced by Reps. James Langevin (D-RI) and Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity John Ratcliffe (R-TX).

Inspired by a trip to Israel by the two legislators, the bill amends previous legislation to extend U.S.-Israel homeland security research and antiterrorism programs to include cybersecurity, and proposes a cybersecurity grant program at the Department of Homeland Security to promote joint U.S.-Israel R&D projects. 

The bill “[takes] us one step closer toward establishing new levels of cybersecurity collaboration with our strongest and most trusted ally in the Middle East,” said Rep. Ratcliffe.

Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Foster U.S.-Israel Space Collaboration

On Sept. 9, Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Marc Veasey (D-TX) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) introduced the United States and Israel Space Cooperation Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would advance U.S.-Israel space cooperation by encouraging collaboration between NASA and Israel Space Agency (ISA) scientists. As of Sept. 15, the bill had 20 cosponsors from both political parties—10 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

“For decades, the United States has worked with our allies to pursue new frontiers in science and space,” said Rep. Kilmer. “This bill allows us to work with one of our key partners to continue that pursuit. In turn, it will keep us on a path that fosters innovation and experimentation, encourage the growth of the U.S. space industry and create American jobs.”

NASA and ISA have cooperated on numerous research and development projects since 1996, the year the two space agencies signed their first agreement outlining areas of mutual cooperation. On Oct. 13, 2015, NASA and ISA signed a framework agreement to foster cooperation in the peaceful exploration of outer space.

Bipartisan Congressional Letter Disavows Anti-Israel UNESCO Resolution

On Oct. 10, 39 members of Congress sent a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the executive board members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) urging the organization to oppose a resolution that minimizes the historic Jewish and Christian links to Jerusalem.

Spearheaded by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the members of Congress emphasize that the resolution “delegitimizes the state of Israel.”

“This unnecessarily divisive and selective resolution undermines the very purpose and integrity of UNESCO by seeking to rewrite Jerusalem's history, rejects Jerusalem's multi-cultural heritage, and undercuts Jerusalem's extraordinary diversity. Forged in the aftermath of World War II, UNESCO strives to establish peace on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity. Attempting to erase the Jewish and Christian connection to this sacred city will further damage the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” the letter states.

Additionally, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. Cruz sent a separate letter to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and U.S. UNESCO Permanent Representative Crystal Nix-Hines urging them to vote against the measure.

“The resolution’s ill intent is unmistakable: to deny the historical record of the Jewish peoples’ connections to their holiest city and to imply that Jerusalem is inconsequential to Jews and Christians, with the intent of laying the groundwork for additional UN efforts to delegitimize Israel and undermine its status as the capital of the Jewish State,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen.

“The United Nations’ obsessive hostility towards Israel will be on display yet again this week as UNESCO considers another blatantly biased resolution that unjustly singles out our close ally Israel with false accusations and criticism, and attempts to erase the specific deep-rooted, historical connection of Jews and Christians to Jerusalem,” added Sen. Cruz.

Despite U.S. and European opposition, the UNESCO resolution passed. The United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Holland, Lithuania and Estonia voted against the measure. Twenty-four countries voted in favor of the resolution and 26 abstained. 

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