I’m delighted to report that Aipac’s signature legislation to cripple U.S. Mideast policy by preventing our government from interacting with a Hamas-led PA is faltering in both the House and Senate. It’s still possible that the bill could pass and become law but it looks less likely now as M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum reports:
…Legislation to cut off virtually all aid to Palestinians is moving ahead although a lot less smoothly than expected. In the House, the Lantos-Ros-Lehtinen bill seems to be stalled at about 150 co-sponsors despite heavy lobbying designed to gain the magical 218 (a majority) by the end of this week. Veteran observers who have seen these election year pushes for Palestinian-bashing measures achieve a House majority in a matter of days are surprised at the bill’s plodding progress.
“This should be an easy one. It’s an anti-Hamas bill in an election year,” one House aide said. “This is usually motherhood and apple pie around here, good for an instant and automatic 300 co-sponsors. It seems that Members are finally catching on that the endless Arab-baiting up here could harm our interests in the entire region including in Iraq.”
The Senate’s companion measure, the version the Israelis prefer and which is marginally more moderate, also is not doing well. At a hearing on Wednesday, Senator Dick Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the panel that “until the new Palestinian government is formed and its policies and roles are clarified, US policy should maintain sufficient flexibility to take advantage of opportunities to exert influence on the Palestinian Authority or elements of it.”
He was joined by Sen John Sununu (R-NH) who effectively deconstructed the McConnell-Biden bill, demonstrating that, unless significantly amended, it would not serve US interests in any way, shape or form. Sununu said the bill would curtail America’s ability to moderate the situation.
James Wolfensohn, the frustrated Mideast representative for the Quartet, warned the Senate in testimony last week that punitive policies that further impoverished the Palestinians were in no one’s interests:
…Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank and for the last year the Quartet’s Special envoy for Disengagement…told the Committee that a way must be found to keep assistance flowing to the Palestinian people or chaos would erupt in the territories.
“I do not believe you can have a million starving Palestinians and have peace,” he said. He implored the senators to take more time to devise ways to come up with means to bypass Hamas but still get the aid to the Palestinian people.
Rosenberg notes that even the quite hawkish Israeli government is less than happy with the Aipac measure:
Nor do Israelis support legislation that will, in Wolfensohn’s words, produce “a million starving Palestinians.” They are, after all, the people who will have to live with the terrorism [that] mass poverty will help produce which is precisely why, as the Forward reported last week, top Israeli government officials are telling Congress to slow down.
A U.S. general overseeing our security policy for Israel and Palestine doesn’t seem overly alarmed by a Hamas led PA and the alleged prospects for increased terrorism against Israel:
At the hearing, Lieutenant General Keith W. Dayton, the Bush administration’s Security Coordinator in the region, seemed in tune with the Israeli view that so long as terrorism does not break out, the post-Hamas situation is not quite as dire as some would have it.
“Fears of post-election Palestinian violence have not, so far, been borne out. Under the caretaker government, the security services remain more or less in place while the victors and the opposition sort out the political arrangements. On the ground, we see continuing examples of local cooperation between the Israeli Defense Forces and Palestinian Security Forces as they deal with the necessities of life. In other words, caution and deliberation seem to be prevailing, at least for the moment. My team and I continue to work with the parties and key regional actors to support that stability so that the political and diplomatic levels have the time and opportunity to do their work….
“In short, “ the General said, “the Palestinian leadership – Fatah, Hamas, and others – are themselves, on a daily basis, seeking to sort out their relationships to one another and their short-term and long-term goals, as well as the options they have to advance these objectives. They are doing all this with an eye to the regional and international context and how it impacts their relationships with outside actors, especially Israel. And, as I mentioned above, caution has prevailed so far.”
General Dayton also reminded the senators that the Hamas victory changed some aspects of US policy but not the fundamentals.
“We are here because it remains profoundly in the US national security interest for us to be involved in the search for peace and progress toward the two-state vision. The Hamas victory has not changed that.”
This is a terrible piece of legislation which would hamstring our Mideast policy, set us back in our efforts to engage the Arab world in a positive way, and dramatically harm the everyday lives of millions of Palestinians. It would be a shame to allow hard-line ideology to hurt real people–both Israelis and Palestinians.