The 115th Congress Opens Sessions with Batch of Pro-Israel Bills

As soon as the 115th U.S. Congress convened on January 3, 2017, representatives and senators introduced several resolutions concerning Israel and Palestine. The flurry of pro-Israel activity reflects both the continuing clout of pro-Israel lobbies and the servile character of too many politicians.

Relocating the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

On the 115th Congress’s very first day, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nevada) wasted no time in introducing S. 11, the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act, which calls for relocating the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Heller’s six cosponsors — all Republicans, including former presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz — joined him in submitting a bill “expressing the sense of Congress” that Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s exclusive capital, including the illegally annexed Arab East Jerusalem. (The bill also advances the proposition that Congress’s supposed concern for the “the rights of every ethnic and religious group” would be secure in a Jerusalem wholly under Israeli rule and makes the demonstrably false claim that the Israeli government already “protects these rights.”)

“The President should implement,” the resolution states, “the provisions of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and begin the process of relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.” If the embassy is not relocated, the bill “prohibits more than 50% of the amounts appropriated to the State Department for FY2017 [fiscal year] for embassy security, construction, and maintenance from being obligated” and would also restrict such funding for FY2018 and FY2019 as well. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 also makes 50% of embassy funding conditional on the embassy move, but authorizes the president to waive it “if he determines and reports to the Congress that a suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.” S. 11 provides no such waiver. Ironically, as one observer has noted, “Cruz and Rubio loudly attacked the Obama administration for failing to properly secure the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya,” but their bill would cut and subsequently eliminate security funding across the board.

Since 1995, every U.S. president has used this waiver to suspend the Jerusalem Embassy Act in deference to international law, diplomatic sensitivities, and the knowledge — unearthed by the Institute for Palestine Studies — that the proposed site for a Jerusalem embassy sits partly on the expropriated property of Palestinian refugees, some of whom are American citizens.

In the House, meanwhile, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona) has introduced similar legislation (along with seven co-sponsors — all Republican); and Rep. Leonard Lance (R-New Jersey) has introduced a duplicate bill.

The United Nation Security Council’s Resolution Condemning Illegal Israeli Settlements

It was predictable that Congressional supporters of Israel would register their opposition to United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2334, which was approved last December because the United States broke with its tradition of veto and abstained from the vote. The resolution rebuked Israel’s attempt to legalize its settlements in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and labeled them a “flagrant violation under international law.” Adopting his characteristically histrionic tone, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the Obama administration and called on Israel’s “friends in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, to undo the damage of this absurd resolution.” Congress cannot “undo” the Security Council’s actions, but it can voice its displeasure.

Accordingly, on January 3, 2017 Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Florida), along with 57 Republican cosponsors, introduced H. Res. 14 “disapproving of President Obama and his administration’s refusal to veto the anti-Israel resolution.”

On January 5, the House passed H. Res. 11 “objecting” to the UN’s actions and stating that Sec. Res. 2334 “sought to impose or unduly influence” final status negotiations and “is biased against Israel.” This is an ironic assertion since Israel’s five decades of settlement building has created “facts on the ground” that clearly prejudice a final agreement on borders in Israel’s favor. UNSC Res. 2334 simply restates a long-standing article of the Fourth Geneva Convention, but the House apparently believes that respecting international law constitutes “bias” if the law contradicts Israeli diktats. H. Res. 11 had 134 cosponsors (99 Republicans and 35 Democrats) and passed by a bipartisan vote of 342 Yea (233 Republicans and 109 Democrats) against 80 Nay votes (all but 4 were Democrats).

Sen. Rubio has introduced a counterpart resolution, S. Res. 6, which expresses “grave objection to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334” and calls for it “to be repealed or fundamentally altered.” Sen. Rubio’s resolution has 59 cosponsors, 18 are Democrats, including the chamber’s Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

Some pro-Israeli resolutions have failed to gain traction. In the Senate, S. Res. 5 was introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) with only two cosponsors “expressing the sense of the Senate in support of Israel.” In the House, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) stood alone introducing H. Res. 27, which rejects “the ‘two-state solution’ as the United States’ diplomatic policy objective and calls for the Administration to advocate for a new approach that prioritizes the State of Israel’s sovereignty, security, and borders.”

Any Mention of Palestine?

Both H. Res. 11 and S. Res. 6 decry the UN for its allegedly “one-sided” resolution, which is particularly rich coming from Congress, given its history of one-sided and unconditional support for Israel and the U.S. legislative branch’s wholesale adoption of the Israeli government’s narrative.

Congress’ “one-sided” support for Israel is thrown into sharp relief in the one piece of legislation put forth that recognizes the possibility for a Palestinian state. Rep. David Price’s (D-NC) H. Res. 23 expresses and reaffirms “the sense of the House” that “the United States should continue to support a durable and sustainable two-state solution.” Beyond expressing its preference for a “demilitarized” Palestinian state, the resolution grounds a two-state solution in the “special relationship between the United States and Israel;” expresses opposition to the “boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions” movement against the Israeli occupation; commits itself to billions of dollars in military aid to Israel to shore up the nation’s “qualitative military edge;” reiterates disapproval of President Obama’s failure to veto the UNSC Res. 2334; calls on the U.S. to veto future U.N. resolutions that would censor Israel; and reserves its sole concern not for the Palestinians living under an illegal occupation, but rather, for “Israel’s ability to maintain its identity as a Jewish and democratic state.”

All 101 of H. Res. 23’s cosponsors are Democrats, and the resolution might be a preemptive measure by the opposition to keep President Trump from rescinding or downplaying official American support for a two-state solution.

If Trump’s cabinet nominees and diplomatic appointees are any indication of what is to come, then his administration will strike a decidedly pro-Israel tone. In the first few days of the 115th Congress, legislators from both sides of the aisle have signaled that the new president can expect little resistance, and much support, no matter how “one-sided” his support for Israel and disregard for the Palestinians might be. In this Congress, anything proceeding with equal consideration for Israelis and Palestinians remains unlikely.