House vote against Palestinian statehood actually showed that Israel lobby is losing its grip

Israel/Palestine
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Yesterday the House of Representatives passed a resolution, H.Res.1765, “condemning unilateral measures to declare or recognize a Palestinian state.” At first glance, this vote appears to be yet another in a long string of resolutions shoring up unconditional Congressional support for Israeli occupation and apartheid. In reality, however, it demonstrates more a weakening—rather than a strengthening—of support for Israel on Capitol Hill at present.

“How does House passage of another anti-Palestinian resolution exhibit a slackening of Congressional support for Israel?” you might rightfully ask. Allow me to explain the paradox.

As are most “pro-Israel” resolutions, H.Res.1765 was brought to a vote under a procedure known as “suspension of the rules.” This procedure, which is supposed to be reserved for non-controversial resolutions such as the naming of a post office, prohibits the resolution from being amended and limits debate on it. In exchange for these restrictions, the resolution must get at least a 2/3 vote to pass rather than a simple majority.

However, unlike most “pro-Israel” resolutions, which often are not voted on for months after being introduced in order to give the Israel lobby time to marshal an overwhelming number of co-sponsors, H.Res.1765 was pushed through quickly with the co-sponsorship of only 53 Representatives.

In fact, the resolution was done in such a helter-skelter fashion that it was put on the calendar for a vote late Tuesday night while Rep. Howard Berman, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was still drafting it. Most Congressional offices did not even see the text of the resolution until a few hours prior to the vote. Many Congressional offices were reportedly infuriated that such an important foreign policy declaration was being treated in such an inconsiderate manner.

The ability of the Israel lobby to pass a resolution before the text of it is even officially made public undoubtedly reflects its still-considerable power. However, the way in which the resolution was debated and voted upon demonstrates that all is not well in the fairy tale world of Israel’s supporters on Capitol Hill.

Berman, who managed the debate on the House floor for the Democrats, appeared flustered and befuddled as he looked repeatedly and anxiously around the chamber for Representatives to appear magically to speak on behalf of the resolution. In the end, Berman mustered only himself and three other Jewish Representatives—Gary Ackerman, Eliot Engel, and Shelley Berkley—to offer full-throated support for the resolution.

The racism and paternalism of these Representatives’ statements make clear why so few of their colleagues wanted to associate themselves with this resolution. Berman patently knows what is best for Palestinians: “The Palestinian people don’t want a bunch of declarations of statehood.” And if Palestinians continue seeking the statehood that they don’t even really want, Berman reminded them that “This body [Congress] has been very generous in its support of their worthy efforts to build institutions and the economy in the West Bank. In fact, I believe that we are the most generous nation in the world in that regard. So I think our friends should understand: If they persist in pursuing a unilateralist path, inevitably, and however regrettably, there will be consequences for U.S-Palestinian relations.”

Without irony, Ackerman affirmed that “The only way to peace is negotiating in good faith and making the hard choices that it demands. Israel has shown time and again that it is ready.” He termed Palestinians’ objections to Israel colonizing their land as “overwrought.”

Engel called it “preposterous” to establish a Palestinian state based on the requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 242. At least he told the truth: “Everyone knows that Israel would never and could never agree with it.”

Last, but not least, Berkley excoriated Palestinians as if she were a teacher and they were students lollygagging in the hall after the bell rings. Palestinians must “return immediately to negotiations,” she thundered. Because “While Israel has a strong country and a good education system, a vibrant economy, a national identity, a cultural identity and a strong democracy, the Palestinians, because of their poor leadership, have absolutely none of those.”

Berman managed to trot out two more Democrats—Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee and, I kid you not, the non-voting delegate of American Samoa Eni Faleomavaega—to make half-hearted statements of support. In her ponderous remarks, Jackson-Lee repeatedly advocated a “two-party state” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Faleomavaega must not have received the memo since he believes that “Palestine should be given as an independent and sovereign state.”

Republicans only eked out two speakers in support of the resolution, one of whom—Rep. Ted Poe—wondered aloud, “Is this [Palestinian state] going to be a sovereign state within the sovereign State of Israel?” Huh? Is this really the best that Israel’s advocates can do these days?

By contrast, Rep. Lois Capps did a masterful job of deconstructing the intent of the resolution. After rising “in very reluctant support” of what she termed “yet another one-sided resolution,” Capps decried the resolution for failing to mention “Israel’s expansion of settlements.” She noted that “Resolutions, like the one we are considering today, are clearly done for domestic political consumption much more than for having any positive impact on the conflict. We should not be ignorant of the fact that this Chamber’s pattern of passing resolutions that are one-sided can, indeed, undermine our credibility to be serious brokers for peace.”

Having been put in his place by Capps, Berman called for a voice vote rather than a recorded vote. Fewer than ten Representatives then on the floor voted by “unanimous consent” to adopt the resolution, giving the illusion that the entire House gave its imprimatur to it.

It is common for only a few Representatives to be on the floor when a unanimous consent vote is taken; however, it is highly unusual for the Israel lobby not to ask for a recorded vote so that its supporters can be rewarded and opponents can be punished. In the case of H.Res.1765, Berman clearly feared that a recorded vote would have led to an embarrassing outcome: more Representatives agreeing with Capps’ assessment and voting to express their displeasure at the resolution.

Growing unease on Capitol Hill over these “one-sided resolutions” is attributable to several factors: Israel’s deliberate humiliation of President Obama on settlements; recognition that Israeli and U.S. interests are not one and the same; and a hard-to-define yet palpable Israel fatigue.

Driving and reinforcing this change of sentiment on Capitol Hill is an increasingly effective grassroots movement demanding a change in U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality. A few hours after breaking the news about the vote on H.Res.1765, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation collected nearly 9,000 signatures on a petition opposing the resolution that was delivered to Berman prior to the vote. At least a half a dozen national organizations, and many more local ones, put out similar alerts.

Several Congressional offices marveled at this efficient outpouring of coordinated opposition and said yesterday that they were receiving many calls against H.Res.1765. While the Israel lobby retains enormous power and influence, the tides are beginning to turn. Join this growing movement today!

Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a national coalition of more than 325 organizations working to change U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality. He is a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service.

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