House reps reach across the aisle at last . . . to smack Ramallah and Geneva upside the head

If one thing has the potential to unite the fractious U.S. House of Representatives, it is the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN. First up, we have Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Chairwoman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, is pushing a bill that would make U.S. funding of UN agencies conditional on how the body votes this month on Palestinian statehood. But he bill, which was just presented in the House, would also allow the U.S. to suspend financial support to the Palestinian Authority. It certainly has some interesting suggestions. Three stand out in particular, from a summary of the 153-page bill released by the Chairwoman’s office:

Title IV – Status of Palestinian Entities at the United Nations: Opposes efforts by the Palestinian leadership to evade a negotiated settlement with Israel and undermine opportunities for peace by seeking de facto recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN (through gaining membership for “Palestine” in UN agencies or programs). Withholds U.S. contributions from any UN agency or program that upgrades the status of the PLO/Palestinian observer mission.

Title V – Goldstone Report: States that it is U.S. policy to lead a high-level diplomatic campaign calling for the revocation and repudiation of the Goldstone Report and its follow-on measures by the UN General Assembly. Also states that it is U.S. policy to consider the Goldstone Report, which falsely accused Israel of deliberately attacking Palestinian civilians during Operation Cast Lead, to be irredeemably biased and unworthy of consideration, legitimization, or support. Also states that it is U.S. policy to strongly and unequivocally oppose any consideration, legitimization, or support of the Goldstone Report or measures stemming from the report in multilateral organizations, and to encourage other nations to repudiate the report. Would also withhold U.S. funding from the Goldstone Report and its preparatory and follow-on measures.

Title VIII – UNRWA: Prohibits U.S. funding to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which aids Palestinian refugees. Despite failing to meet the requirements under U.S. law to obtain foreign assistance, UNRWA has received about $500 million in FY 2009 and 2010 alone, with over $230 million in further funding included in the Administration’s FY 2012 budget request. The prohibition on funding would remain in place until UNRWA: vets its staff and aid recipients through U.S. watch lists for ties to Foreign Terrorist Organizations; stops engaging in anti-Israel propaganda and politicized activities; improves its accountability and transparency; and stops banking with any financial institutions under U.S. designation for terror financing or money laundering.

So yes, while it’s little we have not heard before (“Second verse, same as the first!”), it is demonstrative of conservative opinion these days towards Israel, the Palestinians and the UN (and, arguably, “internationalism” in general).

But we also have House Democrats, despite Obama’s vow to exercise the U.S.’s veto power in the UN Security Council against the Palestinian effort, proposing a resolution that would “prohibit Foreign Military Financing Program (FMFP) assistance to countries that vote in the United Nations General Assembly in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state in the absence of a negotiated border agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” So far, it’s (four) supporters are all Democrats – Steve Israel and Eliot Engel of NY, Robert Brady of Pennsylvannia and Steve Rothman of NJ. None of these individuals are no-name Congressmen: Israel, a member of several Israeli caucuses in the House, was appointed by Nancy Pelosi to serve as the head of the 2012 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and, along with Rothman, sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Engel is a member of the aforementioned House Foreign Affairs Committee. Brady has a seat on the House Armed Services Committee.

The multibillion dollar FMFP is overseen by the Department of Defense but ultimately answers to Congress because it was established during the Cold War by Congress through a law called the Foreign Assistance Act. The bill, first reported on by Washington Jewish Weekly, is based on the rationale that foreign countries that oppose Israel should no longer receive U.S. military assistance. The bill’s sponsors (so far, only Democrats) include

One presumes that the bill is primarily aimed at Egypt and Jordan, who are, respectively, the second and third largest FMFP recipients in the Middle East, with Israel being the the number one beneficiary of the program (the numbers for 2009: Israel, US$2.55 billion; Egypt, US$1.3 billion; Jordan, US$335 million).

This is the Department of Defense’s description of the FMFP (kind of reads like a press release for General Dynamics, doesn’t it?):

“The principal means of ensuring America’s security is through the deterrence of potential aggressors who would threaten the U.S. or its allies. Foreign Military Financing, the U.S. government program for financing through grants or loans the acquisition of U.S. military articles, services, and training, supports U.S. regional stability goals and enables friends and allies to improve their defense capabilities. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) is made available under the authority of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). Congress appropriates FMF funds in the International Affairs Budget, the Department of State allocates the funds for eligible friends and allies; and the Department of Defense executes the program. FMF helps countries meet their legitimate defense needs, promotes U.S. national security interests by strengthening coalitions with friends and allies, cements cooperative bilateral military relationships, and enhances interoperability with U.S. forces. Because FMF monies are used to purchase U.S. military equipment and training, FMF contributes to a strong U.S. defense industrial base, which benefits both America’s armed forces and American workers.”

Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Turkey also benefit from FMFP assistance.

Considering that the list of proscribed recipients would include valuable U.S. “allies” in the Mideast, it is not an idle threat (whereas, say, China, the EU and Russia could care less – more arms sales opportunities for them worldwide).

Then again, the Democratic-written bill would allow the president to review the suspensions on a case by case basis, so maybe it is an idle threat after all. Still, it sends an inescapable message: you’re expendable when it comes to Israel.

It says a lot about U.S. politics that while an international small arms treaty cannot win Congressional U.S. support because of Second Amendment concerns, a bill that would suspend all military aid to human rights violators such as the Egyptian, Turkish, Pakistani and Saudi Arabian militaries only exists because of the U.S. commitment to blocking a UN recognition of Palestinian statehood, which, according to the U.S. Government, is conditional on the following:

Palestinian State: No aid is permitted for a future Palestinian state unless the Secretary of State certifies that the governing entity of the state

1. has demonstrated a firm commitment to peaceful coexistence with the State of Israel [NB: this would exclude Hamas as it stands today];
2. is taking appropriate measures to counter terrorism and terrorist financing in the West Bank and Gaza in cooperation with Israel and others; and
3. is working with other countries in the region to vigorously pursue efforts to establish a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East that will enable Israel and an independent Palestinian state to exist within the context of full and normal relationships.

This restriction does not apply to aid meant to reform the Palestinian governing entity so that it might meet the three conditions outlined above. Additionally, the President is permitted to waive this restriction for national security purposes.

The Congressional efforts show just how much Washington is willing to gamble on Israel’s behalf this September. While some Democrats have announced their opposition to the GOP’s UN-targeted bill, the FMFP bill may yet be one “liberal” defense-slashing bill we might see many Congressional Republicans supporting.

Might. After all, the defense industry sells many of the same weapons to both Israeli and countries like Saudi Arabia. Who cares who recognizes who as long as both keep buying!

About Paul Mutter

Paul Mutter is a contributor to Mondoweiss, Foreign Policy in Focus and the Arabist.
Posted in Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, One state/Two states, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics

{ 9 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. seafoid says:

    The US should go ahead and stop all funding of the PA. It would be like cancelling the family fire insurance policy because it’s too expensive.

    The funding framework is an elaborate construction that ultimately benefits Israel and the status quo- take it away and watch the whole status quo disappear.

    Go on, Erez America. Reap the whirlwind.

    • iamuglow says:

      For sure.

      Its the same with Egypt. We think we have the leverage with the aid, but go cut it, ultimately it given to benefit Israel.

      • seafoid says:

        I watched Ron Paul take on the paid GOP shills (all singing “Iran is evil”) at the weekend and what comes across is how nuts they are.

        Actions have consequences.

        The Middle East is like a sleeping dog. i wouldn’t prod it for ideological reasons.

  2. jayn0t says:

    “Demonstrative of conservative opinion”… Is the implication that liberal opinion in the US is in favor of Palestinian rights?

  3. Avi says:

    Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross are already scheduled to fly to Ramallah in the coming days in an attempt to dissuade (read: threaten) Abbas from going ahead with the planned declaration at the UN.

    So, Abbas will have to choose between alienating more Palestinians than he already has, losing credibility among the leaders of the nations of the world, and between bowing to American/Israeli pressure, thus satisfying his masters.

    His choice will depend on current internal politics within Fatah and between Fatah and Hamas. But, more importantly, Abbas will have to make his decision taking into consideration whether he prefers to remain in his homeland, or seek refuge outside the country.

    Might. After all, the defense industry sells many of the same weapons to both Israeli and countries like Saudi Arabia. Who cares who recognizes who as long as both keep buying!

    Well, the Military Industrial Complex donates weaponry to Israel while it sells degraded weaponry to Saudi Arabia. Israel wants to maintain military superiority in the region. After the US convinced the idiots in Saudi Arabia that they needed advanced weaponry to defend themselves against Iran, the monarchy went and purchased close to 60 billion dollars worth of weaponry. Israel balked at the deal, claiming that the radar systems the US was selling Saudi Arabia had to be downgraded in order for Israel to maintain the technological advantage.

  4. seafoid says:

    Far more relevant to US voters than a small country in diplomatic difficulties on the far side of the big pond.

    This comment was on the irisheconomy.ie site

    Ahura Mazda
    September 14th, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    The US census published the 2010 Income / Poverty report.

    • Real median household income was $49,445 in 2010, a 2.3 percent
    decline from 2009 (Figure 1 and Table 1).

    • Since 2007, the year before the most recent recession, real median household income has declined 6.4 percent and is 7.1 percent below the median household
    income peak that occurred in 1999 (Figure 1 and Tables A-1 and A-2).

    • The official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent—up from 14.3 percent in 2009. This was the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. Since 2007, the poverty rate has increased by 2.6 percentage points, from 12.5 percent to 15.1 percent (Table 4 and Figure 4).

    • In 2010, 46.2 million people were in poverty, up from 43.6 million in 2009—the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty (Table 4 and Figure 4).

    (Definitions of income are in appendix A page 31. Definition of poverty is in appendix B page 61).

    link to census.gov

  5. Bumblebye says:

    The Guardian has a block of stories based around the UN bid on the frontpage at the moment
    link to guardian.co.uk

    • Avi says:

      A moving photo from the link:

      link to static.guim.co.uk

      Ahmad Barghouth, 64, also known as Abu Nidal, sits by his father’s grave, which will be cut off by the wall. Land outside his house is now being flattened to build the barrier.

      -Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

      It seems the family didn’t have the financial means to afford a traditional gravestone.

    • Bumblebye says:

      It seems US readers might be automatically redirected to the new US home page, which carries the news of US stepping up pressure to drop the bid. Ah well. Different readership I suppose.