Congress charting own course in answering Mideast threats
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.