Congress chart­ing own course in an­swer­ing Mideast threats

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

It has been two weeks since Arabs marched on Is­rael’s borders on four sides, yet that me­dia spec­ta­cle re­mains a po­tent metaphor for the mount­ing threats fac­ing the tiny Jewish state, from Hezbol­lah tak­ing over Lebanon to the Ha­mas-part­nered Pales­tinian gov­ern­ment at­tempt­ing to cir­cum­vent peace talks by uni­lat­er­ally declar­ing state­hood at the United Na­tions.

The per­ilous po­si­tion of Is­rael was the cen­ter­piece of most dis­cus­sion for the 10,000plus par­tic­i­pants in Wash­ing­ton last week at the Amer­i­can Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee’s pol­icy con­fer­ence, the largest an­nual pro-Is­rael con­fer­ence.

Pres­i­dent Obama kicked off the con­fer­ence in dam­age-con­trol mode, and he fi­nally took a harder line on the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion Ha­mas and “clar­i­fied” his much-crit­i­cized tele­vised speech in which he called for a re­turn to the 1967 borders (with land swaps) as a ba­sis for ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans.

Al­though some at­ten­dees felt bet­ter about Mr. Obama’s stance af­ter­ward, no one ap­pears ready to sit back and sim­ply trust the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

For that mat­ter, nei­ther Repub­li­can nor Demo­cratic lead­ers in Congress are wait­ing to take cues from the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Mem­bers of both par­ties are al­ready in high gear with cre­ative leg­isla­tive ap­proaches to ev­ery­thing from squeez­ing the Ha­mas-part­nered “unity” gov­ern­ment to vig­or­ous ef­forts to de­rail the pro­posed U.N. res­o­lu­tion this Septem­ber, in which the Pales­tini­ans wish to short-cir­cuit Mr. Obama’s push for peace talks by uni­lat­er­ally declar­ing state­hood.

House Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, and his Demo­cratic coun­ter­part, House Mi­nor­ity Whip Steny Hoyer of Mary­land, have in­tro­duced a res­o­lu­tion call­ing on the ad­min­is­tra­tion to op­pose uni­lat­eral Pales­tinian state­hood at the U.N. and to threaten sig­nif­i­cant diplo­matic iso­la­tion if an un­re­pen­tant Ha­mas re­mains in the Pales­tinian gov­ern­ment.

The Can­tor-Hoyer res­o­lu­tion will be one of the top lob­by­ing items when the vast ma­jor­ity of the 10,000-plus AIPAC at­ten­dees leave the con­fer­ence and flood Capi­tol Hill as cit­i­zen lob­by­ists.

As many in­side the Belt­way know, res­o­lu­tions can help set the po­lit­i­cal tone but they don’t ac­tu­ally change pol­icy. To that end, spe­cific pro­pos­als to put teeth to the res­o­lu­tion are also be­ing con­sid­ered, in­clud­ing:

Deem­ing fi­nan­cial in­stru­ments is­sued by the new “unity gov­ern­ment,” such as the re­cent first-ever Pales­tinian bond is­sue, as ter­ror fi­nance.

Putting diplo­matic pres­sure on the new Ha­mas-part­nered gov­ern­ment by treat­ing the Pales­tinian mis­sion to the U.N. the same way those from other state spon­sors of ter­ror, in­clud­ing Iran and Su­dan, are treated, such as se­verely re­strict­ing the move­ments of their diplo­mats.

Re­duc­ing the over­all amount of in­di­rect as­sis­tance to the Pales­tini­ans through the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment and sub­stan­tially tight­en­ing the rules on aid el­i­gi­bil­ity to make it more dif­fi­cult for par­ties con­nected to Ha­mas to re­ceive fund­ing.

A top concern is some­thing that hasn’t even hap­pened yet, namely the pos­si­bil­ity that Pales­tini­ans will cre­ate a “non­par­ti­san” gov­ern­ment led by tech­nocrats — who just hap­pen to be sup­ported by Ha­mas — in or­der to skirt the def­i­ni­tions of a “unity gov­ern­ment” that would pre­vent di­rect aid un­der ex­ist­ing law.

Some changes to the law be­ing dis­cussed would make it nearly im­pos­si­ble for the cre­ation of a “non­par­ti­san” gov­ern­ment that would ben­e­fit Ha­mas. For ex­am­ple, to pre­vent Ha­mas fig­ures from sim­ply re­sign­ing from the ter­ror­ist group to be­come “non­par­ti­san” min­is­ters in the new gov­ern­ment, one idea would be to block any­one from be­com­ing a min­is­ter if the per­son has been af­fil­i­ated with Ha­mas any­time in the past two years.

Also im­por­tant would be en­sur­ing that the new “non­par­ti­san” gov­ern­ment doesn’t hire any mean­ing­ful num­ber of Ha­mas peo­ple on its pay­roll.

Ha­mas’ po­lit­i­cal sup­port is in part pred­i­cated upon the old-fash­ioned pork pol­i­tics tac­tic of giv­ing jobs to its sup­port­ers. Al­low­ing Ha­mas to ben­e­fit from its peo­ple draw­ing salaries from a “non­par­ti­san” gov­ern­ment would un­der­mine the ef­forts of U.S. Trea­sury of­fi­cials to freeze Ha­mas as­sets around the globe.

But most im­por­tant to con­gres­sional lead­ers is the threat that has been lost in the me­dia ob­ses­sion over the Arab spring: Iran’s pur­suit of nukes.

Re­in­forc­ing that push will be the lob­by­ing ef­forts from AIPAC at­ten­dees, who are mak­ing the new Iran Threat Re­duc­tion Act a top pri­or­ity. The bill, in­tro­duced by House For­eign Af­fairs Chair­woman Ileana Ros-Le­hti­nen, Florida Repub­li­can, and her rank­ing mem­ber, Rep. Howard Ber­man, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, would greatly ex­pand the sanc­tions on hu­man-rights vi­o­la­tors in the gov­ern­ment and in the Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is the main arm of the mul­lahs’ re­pres­sion of the Ira­nian peo­ple.

The bill also in­cludes an idea de­vel­oped by my col­leagues at Foun­da­tion De­fense of Democ­ra­cies to sanc­tion any com­pany which pur­chases pe­tro­leum from IRGC front com­pa­nies, which are the dom­i­nant play­ers in Iran’s crude oil and nat­u­ral gas sup­ply chains.

A re­lated idea would be to tar­get the role of Ha­mas and Ha­mas-af­fil­i­ated en­ti­ties in key sec­tors of the Pales­tinian econ­omy.

The abil­ity of the Ira­nian mul­lahs to fund and other­wise sup­port Ha­mas and Hezbol­lah, of course, will be di­rectly un­der­mined if ex­panded sanc­tions prove suc­cess­ful.

Af­ter all, much like the staged marches of an­gry Arabs on four of Is­rael’s borders, the threats fac­ing the Jewish state are all con­nected by a pow­er­ful force call­ing the shots from be­hind-the-scenes: the Ira­nian mul­lahs, who have never wa­vered in their de­sire for Is­rael’s de­struc­tion.

Joel Mow­bray is an ad­junct fel­low with the Foun­da­tion for the De­fense of Democ­ra­cies.

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