From Churches for Middle East Peace, the Washington Update: Israeli-Palestinian & Iran Issues on Congressional Agenda
The Churches for Middle East Peace Board and Staff extend holiday greetings to our Jewish and Muslim colleagues on the occasions this week of the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashana and Eid al-Fitr, the festival of breaking the fast that marks the completion of the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan.
Shana Tova and Eid Mubarak!
September 29, 2008
By Julie Schumacher Cohen, Legislative Coordinator
Despite the intense focus on the financial crisis, in these final days of Congressional business before a return to the campaign trail, Israeli-Palestinian and Iran issues have been on the agenda. Details are included below. It is still unclear when Congress will adjourn or whether it will go into a “pro-forma” session that will allow it to act quickly should pressing issues arise. At this point it is unlikely, but not impossible, that they would come back for a “lame duck” session after the elections.
1) House Passes Israeli-Palestinian Peacemakers Resolution, H. Res. 1369
2) Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Peace Process
3) Perennial Jerusalem Embassy Resolution Introduced
4) New Iran Sanctions Bill Passes House: Good and Bad News
1. House Passes Israeli-Palestinian Peacemakers Resolution, H. Res. 1369
The House of Representatives passed by voice vote last Tuesday, September 23rd a resolution recognizing the important role of nongovernmental organizations working to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. House Resolution 1369, introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and dubbed the “Peacemakers Resolution”, had been unanimously approved by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in July and has the bi-partisan support of 35 co-sponsors.
Passage of H. Res. 1369 sends a positive signal of Congressional support for civil society peace-building efforts at a time when progress on the Israeli-Palestinian political process is uncertain. Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) encouraged Members to co-sponsor the resolution (view action alert: http://www.cmep.org/Alerts/2008Sept17.htm) and sent a letter the morning of Sept. 23rd to all House Representatives urging them to support it (see letter here: http://www.cmep.org/Legislative_Issues/CMEP_House_Letter_HR1369.pdf ).
Thanks to everyone on the CMEP network who contacted their Representative. In her floor peech on the resolution, Congresswoman Lee cited the strong support of CMEP. The resolution as supported by a broad range of groups, including the Alliance for Middle East Peace ALLMEP), Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and the Middle East Policy Advisory Committee.
Listen to Rep. Lee’s speech by clicking here ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2O2Me30UM9k
View the text of H. Res. 1369 here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/gpoxmlc110/hr1369_ih.xml
Excerpt from Rep. Barbara Lee’s Floor Speech on H. Res. 1369 (Sept. 23, 2008):
“…This resolution recognizes the vital role of nongovernmental organizations in peace-building efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, and it encourages them to remain steadfast in their commitment to nonviolence, in their recognition of Israel's right to exist, in their dedication to achieving a two-state solution, and in their work towards building trust and cooperation between the two peoples.
Mr. Speaker, this bipartisan resolution is strongly endorsed by many organizations and groups that have been long dedicated to the cause of peace, justice and of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. I'd like to mention for a minute the supporters of this resolution:
The Churches for Middle East Peace, which is a coalition of 22 public policy offices of national churches and agencies--Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant--working to realize the vision of a region where two viable states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders; the Alliance for Middle East Peace, which is an alliance of 57 NGOs that are promoting people-to-people coexistence, cooperation and reconciliation between Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Jews in the Middle East; the Israel Policy Forum, which is an independent, nonpartisan organization advocating for sustained American, diplomatic efforts to end the conflict between Israel and her neighbors and to actively promote the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and the Middle East Policy Advisory Committee, which is a coalition of organizations that my congressional district formed to bring a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
Mr. Speaker, in a region that has suffered so much loss and seemingly interminable conflict, these efforts are critically important in addressing the daily struggles and challenges faced by Israelis and Palestinians….”
2. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Peace Process
The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs held a hearing last Thursday, Sept. 25th on “The Middle East Peace Process: Progress and Prospects.” This was the first Senate hearing on this topic since March 15, 2006, over two years ago, when they examined “Post-Palestinian Election Challenges in the Middle East” after the election of Hamas to a majority in the Palestinian parliament. The House has held a variety of hearings on Israel and Palestinian related issues, but in the Senate it has been noticeably neglected. The advocacy agenda for CMEP’s April conference included urging Senators to “Support or initiate the convening of hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to monitor progress on the Annapolis process and the implementation of Road Map requirements.”
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch was the only witness at the Sept. 25th hearing. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chair of the subcommittee presided and retiring Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) also offered comments and questions. Secretary Welch presented a progress report on Annapolis, emphasizing that the negotiations underway are “bilateral, confidential and continuous” and the most meaningful in nearly a decade. He offered no promises on what can be expected in the waning months of the Bush Administration, making a distinction between “possibility and probability” and said “to the degree we can make progress toward” the goal of Annapolis, it should be “irreversible, so it can be transferred over.” Senator Kerry pressed Sec. Welch on the disconnect between Israeli settlement activity and U.S. policy, saying, “It’s been the policy of our country for years that [settlement activity’s] quote unacceptable’ but it has never changed what happens.” In responding to Welch’s observation that within their lifetimes “the concept of a Palestinian state was alien”, Sen. Kerry made the point that “this notion that everybody has decided they want two states doesn’t satisfy anybody anymore." He said the question is now, “how Swiss cheesy is this state going to look?”
Senator Hagel and Sec. Welch exchanged views on the current state of affairs in the Middle East and the impact of U.S. policy over the last eight years, with Hagel coming to the conclusion that the region is “more combustible, more unstable than maybe ever” and Welch countering that “if we only look at the trouble spots in the Middle East…we are missing a bigger picture.” Hagel asked Welch how the Administration is addressing the "reality" of Hamas’ power in Gaza and asked him why the U.S. isn’t mediating the Israel-Syria proximity talks. In response to Sen. Hagel’s questions about lessons learned from the last eight years and what advice he would give to the next administration regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sec. Welch said his successors should, “Give it a priority, put some serious effort on the table, and expect and demand results.”
Key excerpts from the hearing can be viewed on CMEP’s website: http://www.cmep.org/Legislative_Issues/SFRC_subcom_excerpts_Sept_25_08.html
The full hearing can be listened to by going here: http://foreign.senate.gov/hearing.html
(and clicking on the blue hearing title) and Sec. Welch’s submitted testimony can be viewed
3. Perennial Jerusalem Embassy Resolution Introduced
On Thursday, September 25th Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and 4 co-sponsors introduced H. Con. Res. 432, a resolution urging the President to “immediately begin to relocate the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.” (View the text of H. Con. Res. 432 here: http://www.cmep.org/Legislative_Issues/Text_HConRes432.html)
These kinds of resolutions are not unexpected during an election season, despite the widespread recognition that moving the U.S. embassy prior to a final status deal would be a provocative gesture counterproductive to U.S. national security interests (the resolution itself cites the fact that the President regularly waives the requirements of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act). As Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now remarked in her Sept. 26th Legislative Roundup, “The Jerusalem embassy issue is a perennial favorite among those trying to score quick points on Israel.”
In the 110th Congress, no less than 5 other Jerusalem related resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate. Notably, the only one to gain traction and actually come up for a vote was H. Con. Res. 152, a commemoration of the “40th anniversary of the Six Day War and the reunification of the city of Jerusalem” which only implicitly mentioned the embassy issue. CMEP opposed the resolution, which passed June 5, 2007, with a message to all House offices entitled, “H. Con. Res. 152: Commemoration of Past Ignores Present and Prejudges Future; For the Sake of Jerusalem Urgent Peacemaking is Needed Today."
H. Con. Res. 432 and the many resolutions that have come before it, and can be expected to come in the future, are largely symbolic and have little effect on actual policy. Nonetheless, they send an unhelpful message when Congress should be supporting Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic efforts. In the new year, CMEP will redouble its efforts with Congress to build support for the U.S. policy that Jerusalem is a final status issue to be negotiated by the two parties and to build awareness of the importance of a shared city to a durable peace agreement.
4. New Iran Sanctions Bill Passes House: Good and Bad News
By the end of last week it seemed like Congress might adjourn without passing any Iran Sanctions measures. There was no movement on H. Con. Res. 362/S. Res. 580 and efforts to include Iran sanctions amendments to the “must-pass” Defense Authorization Bill had failed. However, in a last-ditch effort on Friday, Sept. 26th, Rep. Berman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, introduced – and the House subsequently passed – the “Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2008”. A combination of several sanctions measures, the Berman bill is largely focused on further sanctioning business and investment activities with Iran. The text of the legislation was not released until mid-day Friday and because it was considered under “suspension of the rules”, a fast-track generally reserved for non-controversial bills, there was, regrettably, very little debate on a serious piece of sanctions legislation that deserved scrutiny.
According to CQ Today, the Berman bill is “not expected to see action in the Senate”, however the longer Congress stays in session the more time it gives them to bring up various measures. The good news is that the Berman bill does not endorse the provocative measures in H. Con. Res. 362/S. Res. 580, particularly H. Con. Res. 362’s call for “stringent inspection requirements” on goods moving in and out of Iran that could be construed as necessitating a “blockade”, which is an act of war. Moreover, the bill includes a statement that “the United States should use iplomatic and economic means to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem” and that the United States should continue to “support efforts in the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council.” It also states that nothing in the bill shall “be construed as authorizing the use of force.”
While the bill doesn’t support direct U.S. talks with Iran, implying sanctions alone are adequate diplomacy, Chairman Berman said, positively, in a speech on the floor that “Sanctions will never work unless we have buy-in and support from other key countries. And if the process of achieving that buy-in requires us to engage directly with Iran, that is certainly something we should do.”
The bad news is that the Berman bill does not embody the comprehensive diplomatic strategy that is needed to effectively address Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Despite the mention of using diplomatic means, in substance the bill continues the "all sticks and no carrots" approach, relying on sanctions and failing to provide incentives or promote direct, serious and sustained U.S. negotiations with Iran. Churches for Middle East Peace released last week a new policy statement on Iran, outlining how diplomatic engagement with Iran together with substantive progress on Israeli-Arab peace is integral to regional peace, security and stability [http://www.cmep.org/Statements/2008_September_Policy%20Statement%20on%20Iran.htm].
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