Commentary Magazine


Topic: House Foreign Affairs Committee

A Challenge for Smart Power

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has posted the witness statements from its January 25 hearing regarding the United Nations. During the hearing (the video is here), there was an interesting colloquy regarding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) between Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the new chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, and journalist Claudia Rosett.

Chabot noted that UNRWA refuses to vet its staff for ties to Hamas and “engages in anti-Israel and pro-Hamas propaganda and banks with Syrian institutions designated under the USA Patriot Act for terror financing and money laundering.” Then he posed a series of questions:

REP. CHABOT: Why is the U.S. still UNRWA’s largest single donor? Why have we given them about a half a billion dollars in the last two years alone? Why hasn’t the U.S. publicly criticized UNRWA for these problems and withheld funding until it reforms? Given that Hamas controls security in Gaza and that Hamas has confiscated UNRWA aid packages in the past, how can we possibly guarantee that U.S. contributions to UNRWA will not end up in Hamas’ hands?

MS. ROSETT: You can’t guarantee it. In fact, it does. … UNRWA is headquartered in Gaza and basically provides support services for what has become a terrorist enclave. … I asked how do you vet your staff to make sure that they are not terrorist members of Hamas? The answer I was given was we check them against the U.N. 1267 list. That sounds very impressive unless you happen to know that the 1267 list is al-Qaeda, which is maybe a problem in Gaza, but it’s not the main problem. The problem is Hamas.

So a temporary UN agency, formed 62 years ago for the relief of Arab and Jewish refugees from the 1948 war, is now a support group for a terrorist enclave — a quasi-permanent agency financed in large part by the United States, with contributions that — unlike UN dues — are voluntary.

Surely smart power is smart enough to find a tool to deal with this problem.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has posted the witness statements from its January 25 hearing regarding the United Nations. During the hearing (the video is here), there was an interesting colloquy regarding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) between Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the new chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, and journalist Claudia Rosett.

Chabot noted that UNRWA refuses to vet its staff for ties to Hamas and “engages in anti-Israel and pro-Hamas propaganda and banks with Syrian institutions designated under the USA Patriot Act for terror financing and money laundering.” Then he posed a series of questions:

REP. CHABOT: Why is the U.S. still UNRWA’s largest single donor? Why have we given them about a half a billion dollars in the last two years alone? Why hasn’t the U.S. publicly criticized UNRWA for these problems and withheld funding until it reforms? Given that Hamas controls security in Gaza and that Hamas has confiscated UNRWA aid packages in the past, how can we possibly guarantee that U.S. contributions to UNRWA will not end up in Hamas’ hands?

MS. ROSETT: You can’t guarantee it. In fact, it does. … UNRWA is headquartered in Gaza and basically provides support services for what has become a terrorist enclave. … I asked how do you vet your staff to make sure that they are not terrorist members of Hamas? The answer I was given was we check them against the U.N. 1267 list. That sounds very impressive unless you happen to know that the 1267 list is al-Qaeda, which is maybe a problem in Gaza, but it’s not the main problem. The problem is Hamas.

So a temporary UN agency, formed 62 years ago for the relief of Arab and Jewish refugees from the 1948 war, is now a support group for a terrorist enclave — a quasi-permanent agency financed in large part by the United States, with contributions that — unlike UN dues — are voluntary.

Surely smart power is smart enough to find a tool to deal with this problem.

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Fixing the Problems at the UN

There was one thing members of Congress and advocates for UN reform all agreed on at the House Foreign Affairs Committee discussion on UN funding today: the United Nations is an expensive disaster. Not only are some of its committees used as platforms to vilify Israel and undermine U.S. interests, but the American taxpayers are also subsidizing this equivalent of a frat house for totalitarian leaders.

Each year, the U.S. finances 20 percent of the UN’s total budget, plus billions in additional funds. And while some have proposed that the U.S. withhold an amount of money that’s equal to the budgets of committees that work against our interests — such as Human Rights Council and the Relief and Works Agency — this would be a largely symbolic move. Currently, these committees are funded out of the main contribution we give the UN, so any cuts would be spread around to all the programs and dull the financial blow.

In his testimony before the congressional committee, the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer suggested that the U.S. lobby for these committees to be spun out of the regular UN funding so that Congress would be able to target them easier.

This appears to be the best proposal, but it will also require a lot of support from Congress. Despite the U.S.’s significant contributions to the UN, its vote on budgetary matters doesn’t hold any more weight than other member countries. So the task at this point would be to increase the U.S.’s voting power at the UN.

And getting that done might require putting more pressure on the UN than some Democrats are comfortable with — including cutting our contributions significantly or defunding it completely. But based on House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s statements today, this sounds like a fight that Republicans are eager to have.

“In the past, Congress has gone along by willingly paying what successive Administrations asked for — without enough oversight,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “This is one of the first true U.N. reform hearings held by this Committee in almost 4 years, but it won’t be the last.”

Ros-Lehtinen said that she would be introducing legislation that would allow Congress to defund the UN entirely, so that “U.S. taxpayers can pay for the U.N. programs and activities that advance our interests and values, and if other countries want different things to be funded, they can pay for it themselves.”

And with the renewed Republican focus on fiscal issues, a proposal like this is likely to resonate with both GOP lawmakers and the conservative base.

There was one thing members of Congress and advocates for UN reform all agreed on at the House Foreign Affairs Committee discussion on UN funding today: the United Nations is an expensive disaster. Not only are some of its committees used as platforms to vilify Israel and undermine U.S. interests, but the American taxpayers are also subsidizing this equivalent of a frat house for totalitarian leaders.

Each year, the U.S. finances 20 percent of the UN’s total budget, plus billions in additional funds. And while some have proposed that the U.S. withhold an amount of money that’s equal to the budgets of committees that work against our interests — such as Human Rights Council and the Relief and Works Agency — this would be a largely symbolic move. Currently, these committees are funded out of the main contribution we give the UN, so any cuts would be spread around to all the programs and dull the financial blow.

In his testimony before the congressional committee, the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer suggested that the U.S. lobby for these committees to be spun out of the regular UN funding so that Congress would be able to target them easier.

This appears to be the best proposal, but it will also require a lot of support from Congress. Despite the U.S.’s significant contributions to the UN, its vote on budgetary matters doesn’t hold any more weight than other member countries. So the task at this point would be to increase the U.S.’s voting power at the UN.

And getting that done might require putting more pressure on the UN than some Democrats are comfortable with — including cutting our contributions significantly or defunding it completely. But based on House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s statements today, this sounds like a fight that Republicans are eager to have.

“In the past, Congress has gone along by willingly paying what successive Administrations asked for — without enough oversight,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “This is one of the first true U.N. reform hearings held by this Committee in almost 4 years, but it won’t be the last.”

Ros-Lehtinen said that she would be introducing legislation that would allow Congress to defund the UN entirely, so that “U.S. taxpayers can pay for the U.N. programs and activities that advance our interests and values, and if other countries want different things to be funded, they can pay for it themselves.”

And with the renewed Republican focus on fiscal issues, a proposal like this is likely to resonate with both GOP lawmakers and the conservative base.

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Rep. Allan West Talking Sense on PLO Flag

In a press release this morning, Rep. Allan West asked why the PLO is allowed to fly its flag above its Washington office but Taiwan is not.

“By allowing this flag to be flown, the United States is extending a diplomatic right that we refrain from offering to even our own allies, like Taiwan,” said West. “This action is a diplomatic slap in the face of our greatest of allies, Israel.”

The Taiwan-PLO comparison is an excellent point. As far as officially recognized states go, Taiwan is clearly further along that path than Palestine is. The U.S. has also recognized Taiwan as a country in the past.

Here are some more comparisons between Taiwan and Palestine:

• Unlike Palestine, Taiwan has been an autonomous, self-governing entity for decades.

• Unlike Palestine, Taiwan doesn’t claim that the only way it can ever be free is if it destroys the state next to it (in this case, China).

• Unlike Palestine, Taiwan has been a reliable ally of the U.S. for years.

• Unlike Palestine, the U.S. has trusted Taiwan enough to sell it extensive arms, including F-16s under President George H.W. Bush.

West is right that this is a slap in the face to Israel — but it’s also a slap in the face to Taiwan, which has no hope of being recognized any time soon. According to West’s press release, he has joined House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in speaking out against the PLO flag being flown. Both members of Congress are asking President Obama and the State Department to rescind the authorization given to the PLO to raise the flag.

In a press release this morning, Rep. Allan West asked why the PLO is allowed to fly its flag above its Washington office but Taiwan is not.

“By allowing this flag to be flown, the United States is extending a diplomatic right that we refrain from offering to even our own allies, like Taiwan,” said West. “This action is a diplomatic slap in the face of our greatest of allies, Israel.”

The Taiwan-PLO comparison is an excellent point. As far as officially recognized states go, Taiwan is clearly further along that path than Palestine is. The U.S. has also recognized Taiwan as a country in the past.

Here are some more comparisons between Taiwan and Palestine:

• Unlike Palestine, Taiwan has been an autonomous, self-governing entity for decades.

• Unlike Palestine, Taiwan doesn’t claim that the only way it can ever be free is if it destroys the state next to it (in this case, China).

• Unlike Palestine, Taiwan has been a reliable ally of the U.S. for years.

• Unlike Palestine, the U.S. has trusted Taiwan enough to sell it extensive arms, including F-16s under President George H.W. Bush.

West is right that this is a slap in the face to Israel — but it’s also a slap in the face to Taiwan, which has no hope of being recognized any time soon. According to West’s press release, he has joined House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in speaking out against the PLO flag being flown. Both members of Congress are asking President Obama and the State Department to rescind the authorization given to the PLO to raise the flag.

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The Fierce Urgency of UNRWA

At tomorrow’s hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee will consider recommendations that the U.S. end its funding for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). An even more urgent issue, however, relates to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Some argue that the U.S. should stop funding UNRWA as well, but the urgency involves more than UNRWA’s financing. Its latest three-year mandate comes up for renewal in June, and the U.S. needs to decide soon what its position should be.

UNRWA is a “temporary agency” currently in its 62nd year. It was established in 1949 to serve approximately 700,000 Arabs and more than 800,000 Jews who became refugees as a result of the Arab war against Israel. In 1952, UNRWA stopped assisting Jewish refugees, since they had been resettled in Israel and other countries. But in its 62 years, UNRWA has yet to resettle a single Arab refugee. It is instrumental in keeping them in squalid camps, generation after generation, expanding their numbers with a unique definition of “refugee” not applied in other refugee situations.

Forget the controversy over how many Palestinians left at Arab urging to make way for the promised destruction of Israel by the invading Arab armies; how many fled the horrors of war on their own initiative; how many were pushed out in the course of the war. That issue is the subject of faux Palestinian scholarship, but the fundamental fact is there would be no refugees at all if the Arabs had accepted the UN’s two-state solution in 1947 instead of starting a war – and trying it again in 1967.

It is a human-rights violation of the first order that Arab refugees and their descendants have not been offered citizenship in the Arab countries where they have now lived most or all of their lives. But UNRWA rules out such resettlement – unlike the remedy used for all other refugees in the world. As Jonathan D. Halevi has demonstrated in a compelling analysis, and as Michael Bernstam has shown in his extraordinary article in the December issue of COMMENTARY, “The Palestinian Proletariat,” the refugee problem is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and UNRWA is part of the problem.

Before the “temporary” agency’s mandate is renewed again, that mandate needs to be reconsidered. Instead of holding refugees in camps for decades, hoping to force them on Israel — the state that resettled an even greater number of Jewish refugees resulting from the 1948 war — Arab states should finally assume moral and financial responsibility for the refugees their war created, and UNRWA should start resettling them there. After 62 years, the time is now.

At tomorrow’s hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee will consider recommendations that the U.S. end its funding for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). An even more urgent issue, however, relates to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Some argue that the U.S. should stop funding UNRWA as well, but the urgency involves more than UNRWA’s financing. Its latest three-year mandate comes up for renewal in June, and the U.S. needs to decide soon what its position should be.

UNRWA is a “temporary agency” currently in its 62nd year. It was established in 1949 to serve approximately 700,000 Arabs and more than 800,000 Jews who became refugees as a result of the Arab war against Israel. In 1952, UNRWA stopped assisting Jewish refugees, since they had been resettled in Israel and other countries. But in its 62 years, UNRWA has yet to resettle a single Arab refugee. It is instrumental in keeping them in squalid camps, generation after generation, expanding their numbers with a unique definition of “refugee” not applied in other refugee situations.

Forget the controversy over how many Palestinians left at Arab urging to make way for the promised destruction of Israel by the invading Arab armies; how many fled the horrors of war on their own initiative; how many were pushed out in the course of the war. That issue is the subject of faux Palestinian scholarship, but the fundamental fact is there would be no refugees at all if the Arabs had accepted the UN’s two-state solution in 1947 instead of starting a war – and trying it again in 1967.

It is a human-rights violation of the first order that Arab refugees and their descendants have not been offered citizenship in the Arab countries where they have now lived most or all of their lives. But UNRWA rules out such resettlement – unlike the remedy used for all other refugees in the world. As Jonathan D. Halevi has demonstrated in a compelling analysis, and as Michael Bernstam has shown in his extraordinary article in the December issue of COMMENTARY, “The Palestinian Proletariat,” the refugee problem is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and UNRWA is part of the problem.

Before the “temporary” agency’s mandate is renewed again, that mandate needs to be reconsidered. Instead of holding refugees in camps for decades, hoping to force them on Israel — the state that resettled an even greater number of Jewish refugees resulting from the 1948 war — Arab states should finally assume moral and financial responsibility for the refugees their war created, and UNRWA should start resettling them there. After 62 years, the time is now.

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House Republicans Want to Cut UN Funding

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, has come up with another superb proposal. The congresswoman wants to cut funding for the UN — particularly the money that goes toward supporting the UN Human Rights Council.

“The fact that the U.S. continues to contribute billions of taxpayer dollars every year to an unaccountable, unreformed U.N. is no laughing matter,” she said in a statement. “These allegations reinforce the need for expanded and effective oversight of the U.N. Next week, our committee will lead the way by holding the first of several briefings and hearings on UN reform.”

Ros-Lehtinen is holding a panel tomorrow that will discuss the problems with the UN and how Congress can take steps to solve them.

One of the main issues with the Human Rights Council, of course, is that its entire existence revolves around demonizing Israel at every opportunity. It’s also composed of many of the same countries that commit the worst human-rights abuse.

The executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, told the Hill that out of the 45 resolutions passed by the UNHRC over the past half-decade, 35 of them have been “one-sided measures against Israel.”

“One of the most significant tools has been used to wallop Israel over the head and not to promote peace,” added Neuer.

The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act prohibited the U.S. from funding the UNHRC unless the secretary of state certified that this funding was in the “national interest of the United States” or if the U.S. were a member of the council.

The U.S. was voted off the UNHRC under the Bush administration, but President Obama lobbied to get us back on after he was elected. So even if the council works against our national interest, there’s no current prohibition against funding it.

Also, defunding the UNHRC would be mainly a symbolic act, since the U.S. allocates money to the entire UN, not specific parts of it. Because of that, we could withhold a budgetary amount that’s equal to the cost of the UNHRC, but it appears that there’s no way of knowing whether the money will be spent on the council or not.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, has come up with another superb proposal. The congresswoman wants to cut funding for the UN — particularly the money that goes toward supporting the UN Human Rights Council.

“The fact that the U.S. continues to contribute billions of taxpayer dollars every year to an unaccountable, unreformed U.N. is no laughing matter,” she said in a statement. “These allegations reinforce the need for expanded and effective oversight of the U.N. Next week, our committee will lead the way by holding the first of several briefings and hearings on UN reform.”

Ros-Lehtinen is holding a panel tomorrow that will discuss the problems with the UN and how Congress can take steps to solve them.

One of the main issues with the Human Rights Council, of course, is that its entire existence revolves around demonizing Israel at every opportunity. It’s also composed of many of the same countries that commit the worst human-rights abuse.

The executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, told the Hill that out of the 45 resolutions passed by the UNHRC over the past half-decade, 35 of them have been “one-sided measures against Israel.”

“One of the most significant tools has been used to wallop Israel over the head and not to promote peace,” added Neuer.

The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act prohibited the U.S. from funding the UNHRC unless the secretary of state certified that this funding was in the “national interest of the United States” or if the U.S. were a member of the council.

The U.S. was voted off the UNHRC under the Bush administration, but President Obama lobbied to get us back on after he was elected. So even if the council works against our national interest, there’s no current prohibition against funding it.

Also, defunding the UNHRC would be mainly a symbolic act, since the U.S. allocates money to the entire UN, not specific parts of it. Because of that, we could withhold a budgetary amount that’s equal to the cost of the UNHRC, but it appears that there’s no way of knowing whether the money will be spent on the council or not.

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Bringing Change to Foreign Policy

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

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J Street Launches Campaign Against Ros-Lehtinen

J Street is calling on Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to return campaign contributions that she received from Irving Moskowitz, the financier behind the new construction at the Shepherd’s Hotel site. Yes, the George Soros–funded J Street is criticizing someone for taking money from a controversial philanthropist. This is too easy:

With the two-state solution hanging by a thread, what a terrible signal it sends for an American political leader to be so cozy with a far-right political funder whose actions undermine the foreign policy of the United States and makes a two-state solution harder to achieve.

Ros-Lehtinen, the new Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reportedly accepted $4,800 from both Moskowitz and his wife during her campaign. Moskowitz’s wife also gave $5,000 to a pro-Israel PAC that donated $10,000 to Ros-Lehtinen.

According to J Street, Moskowitz “actively works to derail the chances for a two-state solution by funding Jewish settler housing in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods.”

First of all, Moskowitz isn’t funding “Jewish” housing. He’s constructing an apartment building for Israelis of all religions and ethnicities, in a largely Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The housing complex is being built on land he already owned for decades. So J Street is now the arbiter of what an Israeli can build on his own property?

This whole campaign comes down to one thing. Ros-Lehtinen is one of the strongest friends of Israel in Congress, and her new, prominent position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is terrifying to J Street. Expect more petty attacks like this in the future.

J Street is calling on Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to return campaign contributions that she received from Irving Moskowitz, the financier behind the new construction at the Shepherd’s Hotel site. Yes, the George Soros–funded J Street is criticizing someone for taking money from a controversial philanthropist. This is too easy:

With the two-state solution hanging by a thread, what a terrible signal it sends for an American political leader to be so cozy with a far-right political funder whose actions undermine the foreign policy of the United States and makes a two-state solution harder to achieve.

Ros-Lehtinen, the new Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reportedly accepted $4,800 from both Moskowitz and his wife during her campaign. Moskowitz’s wife also gave $5,000 to a pro-Israel PAC that donated $10,000 to Ros-Lehtinen.

According to J Street, Moskowitz “actively works to derail the chances for a two-state solution by funding Jewish settler housing in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods.”

First of all, Moskowitz isn’t funding “Jewish” housing. He’s constructing an apartment building for Israelis of all religions and ethnicities, in a largely Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The housing complex is being built on land he already owned for decades. So J Street is now the arbiter of what an Israeli can build on his own property?

This whole campaign comes down to one thing. Ros-Lehtinen is one of the strongest friends of Israel in Congress, and her new, prominent position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is terrifying to J Street. Expect more petty attacks like this in the future.

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An Edifice Over an Abyss

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

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The Resolution and the Process

The Palestinians are upset at the unanimously adopted Congressional Resolution, authored by the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its ranking Republican member, which opposes any attempt to establish a Palestinian state outside a negotiated agreement. The resolution calls on the administration to lead a diplomatic effort against a unilaterally declared state, affirm that the U.S. would not recognize it, and veto any UN resolution seeking to establish one. The resolution — and the Palestinian reaction to it — caps a series of clarifying developments over the past year and a half:

First, the Palestinians refused to negotiate unless Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution and froze settlement construction; Netanyahu did both, and the Palestinians refused to negotiate. They had to be dragged into “proximity talks” and then dragged into “direct negotiations” and then left.

Second, the Palestinian Authority canceled local elections in the West Bank, unwilling to risk them even in the part of the putative state it nominally controls. The PA is now headed by a “president” currently in the 72nd month of his 48-month term, with a “prime minister” appointed by the holdover “president” rather than by the Palestinian parliament (which, unfortunately, is controlled by the terrorist group the Palestinians elected five years ago). These days, the PA turns for approval not to its public or its parliament but rather to the Arab League, while the other half of the putative state is run by the terrorist group. As a democratic state, “Palestine” is already a failed one.

Third, the peace-partner Palestinians rejected the two criteria that Netanyahu set forth for a peace agreement: recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization of the Palestinian one. The first requirement reflects a series of essential points: the Palestinians cannot have a state and a “right of return” to the other one; there cannot be a two-stage plan to obtain a second state and then work to change the character of the first one; and a peace agreement must contain an “end-of-claims” provision precluding further disputes. The second requirement reflects the obvious fact that, having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to have them become staging areas for new wars, Israel would be crazy to expose its eastern border to the same thing with a militarized Palestinian state. But the Palestinians rejected both of the requirements.

Fourth, the peace-partner Palestinians objected to an Israeli referendum on any peace agreement, considering democratic approval an obstacle to peace. A referendum serves as a necessary check on the legitimacy of the process; it is why the PA itself continually assures its own public (and the terrorist group in Gaza) that any peace agreement would be subject to a Palestinian referendum. But the peace-partner Palestinians do not want one for the Israeli public if it would serve as a check on further one-sided concessions.

Israel is currently faced with a PA that is unwilling to meet the basic requirements of a permanent peace, lacks the political authority to enter into a peace agreement (much less the ability to implement one), opposes any process in which the Israeli public can assure itself of the result, and wants a state simply imposed on Israel by the U.S. or the UN. If the Congressional Resolution helps disabuse it of these notions, it will be a significant contribution to the current non-peace non-process.

The Palestinians are upset at the unanimously adopted Congressional Resolution, authored by the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its ranking Republican member, which opposes any attempt to establish a Palestinian state outside a negotiated agreement. The resolution calls on the administration to lead a diplomatic effort against a unilaterally declared state, affirm that the U.S. would not recognize it, and veto any UN resolution seeking to establish one. The resolution — and the Palestinian reaction to it — caps a series of clarifying developments over the past year and a half:

First, the Palestinians refused to negotiate unless Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution and froze settlement construction; Netanyahu did both, and the Palestinians refused to negotiate. They had to be dragged into “proximity talks” and then dragged into “direct negotiations” and then left.

Second, the Palestinian Authority canceled local elections in the West Bank, unwilling to risk them even in the part of the putative state it nominally controls. The PA is now headed by a “president” currently in the 72nd month of his 48-month term, with a “prime minister” appointed by the holdover “president” rather than by the Palestinian parliament (which, unfortunately, is controlled by the terrorist group the Palestinians elected five years ago). These days, the PA turns for approval not to its public or its parliament but rather to the Arab League, while the other half of the putative state is run by the terrorist group. As a democratic state, “Palestine” is already a failed one.

Third, the peace-partner Palestinians rejected the two criteria that Netanyahu set forth for a peace agreement: recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization of the Palestinian one. The first requirement reflects a series of essential points: the Palestinians cannot have a state and a “right of return” to the other one; there cannot be a two-stage plan to obtain a second state and then work to change the character of the first one; and a peace agreement must contain an “end-of-claims” provision precluding further disputes. The second requirement reflects the obvious fact that, having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to have them become staging areas for new wars, Israel would be crazy to expose its eastern border to the same thing with a militarized Palestinian state. But the Palestinians rejected both of the requirements.

Fourth, the peace-partner Palestinians objected to an Israeli referendum on any peace agreement, considering democratic approval an obstacle to peace. A referendum serves as a necessary check on the legitimacy of the process; it is why the PA itself continually assures its own public (and the terrorist group in Gaza) that any peace agreement would be subject to a Palestinian referendum. But the peace-partner Palestinians do not want one for the Israeli public if it would serve as a check on further one-sided concessions.

Israel is currently faced with a PA that is unwilling to meet the basic requirements of a permanent peace, lacks the political authority to enter into a peace agreement (much less the ability to implement one), opposes any process in which the Israeli public can assure itself of the result, and wants a state simply imposed on Israel by the U.S. or the UN. If the Congressional Resolution helps disabuse it of these notions, it will be a significant contribution to the current non-peace non-process.

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Morning Commentary

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has hit the ground running as the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. First items on the agenda: cutting the State Department budget, forcing significant changes at the UN, and increasing pressure on “rogue states.”

Ron Paul is the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Paul has been an outspoken critic of the National Endowment of Democracy, which he claims helps stir up international conflict with taxpayer money. Much of Xiaobo’s fine work has been funded through grants from the NED.

George H.W. Bush has thrown his support behind New START, becoming the most prominent Republican figure yet to publicly back the controversial legislation.

James Fallows cautions not to put too much stock into those exceptional Shanghai test scores, noting that the students tested may not have been representative of the average Chinese student. “No doubt these results reflect something real,” wrote Fallows. “But as with just about everything concerning modern China, the results should also be viewed with some distance and possible skepticism.”

Former Army analyst Bradley Manning is facing half a century in prison for leaking secret military documents to WikiLeaks, but it seems he’s become something of a folk hero among left-wingers. The city council of Berkeley is considering a resolution honoring his “patriotism.” The Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway suggests: “Once they take care of this vital matter, perhaps they can get around to finally doing something about all the deranged panhandlers on Telegraph Avenue.”

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg may protest allegations that he’s running for president, but his speech yesterday sure sounded like it. And as NBC’s Mark Murray noted, the words also sounded vaguely familiar.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has hit the ground running as the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. First items on the agenda: cutting the State Department budget, forcing significant changes at the UN, and increasing pressure on “rogue states.”

Ron Paul is the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Paul has been an outspoken critic of the National Endowment of Democracy, which he claims helps stir up international conflict with taxpayer money. Much of Xiaobo’s fine work has been funded through grants from the NED.

George H.W. Bush has thrown his support behind New START, becoming the most prominent Republican figure yet to publicly back the controversial legislation.

James Fallows cautions not to put too much stock into those exceptional Shanghai test scores, noting that the students tested may not have been representative of the average Chinese student. “No doubt these results reflect something real,” wrote Fallows. “But as with just about everything concerning modern China, the results should also be viewed with some distance and possible skepticism.”

Former Army analyst Bradley Manning is facing half a century in prison for leaking secret military documents to WikiLeaks, but it seems he’s become something of a folk hero among left-wingers. The city council of Berkeley is considering a resolution honoring his “patriotism.” The Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway suggests: “Once they take care of this vital matter, perhaps they can get around to finally doing something about all the deranged panhandlers on Telegraph Avenue.”

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg may protest allegations that he’s running for president, but his speech yesterday sure sounded like it. And as NBC’s Mark Murray noted, the words also sounded vaguely familiar.

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Israel, Iran, and Senate Races

To his credit, Ron Kampeas reverses course and supports Mark Kirk’s push-back against the assertions made by Democratic surrogates that Kirk had nothing to do with the sanctions bill. It seems as though other reports had the goods:

Let me revise my assessment Monday of the smackdown between Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), running for Illinois’ open U.S. Senate seat, is not a win for Kirk on points — it’s a knockout, for Kirk.

Folks intimately involved in preparing Kirk’s  bill sanctioning Iran’s energy sector have contacted me (and not Republicans) — and they say it indeed provided the template for Berman’s original sanctions bill. Berman says Kirk’s claims that he framed the bill are wrong, and that Kirk had nothing to do with the bill.

He continues that “I gather some of the same folks reached out to Foreign Policy The Cable’s Josh Rogin, and he had the more thorough version up first” — which actually cited JTA’s own reporting. Kudos for reversing field, but perhaps next time Kampeas can reach out to the out-reachers to confirm the facts before he writes his column.

Kampeas might consider a walk-back on his assessment of Joe Sestak as well. Kampeas thinks the newest ECI ad is too tough, asserting: “Sestak is a consistent yes vote on pro-Israel legislation so ‘record of hostility’ would seem to overstate it, even for a partisan release.” It’s really not. In fact, when Sestak asserted that he had a 100 percent pro-AIPAC voting record, Jewish officials struck back hard. A Jewish official reached out to Ben Smith on that one:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

Are the ECI and RJC ads tough? Yes. Do they accurately depict Sestak and reflect deep concern regarding his record by pro-Israel activists, including many Democrats? Absolutely.

To his credit, Ron Kampeas reverses course and supports Mark Kirk’s push-back against the assertions made by Democratic surrogates that Kirk had nothing to do with the sanctions bill. It seems as though other reports had the goods:

Let me revise my assessment Monday of the smackdown between Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), running for Illinois’ open U.S. Senate seat, is not a win for Kirk on points — it’s a knockout, for Kirk.

Folks intimately involved in preparing Kirk’s  bill sanctioning Iran’s energy sector have contacted me (and not Republicans) — and they say it indeed provided the template for Berman’s original sanctions bill. Berman says Kirk’s claims that he framed the bill are wrong, and that Kirk had nothing to do with the bill.

He continues that “I gather some of the same folks reached out to Foreign Policy The Cable’s Josh Rogin, and he had the more thorough version up first” — which actually cited JTA’s own reporting. Kudos for reversing field, but perhaps next time Kampeas can reach out to the out-reachers to confirm the facts before he writes his column.

Kampeas might consider a walk-back on his assessment of Joe Sestak as well. Kampeas thinks the newest ECI ad is too tough, asserting: “Sestak is a consistent yes vote on pro-Israel legislation so ‘record of hostility’ would seem to overstate it, even for a partisan release.” It’s really not. In fact, when Sestak asserted that he had a 100 percent pro-AIPAC voting record, Jewish officials struck back hard. A Jewish official reached out to Ben Smith on that one:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

Are the ECI and RJC ads tough? Yes. Do they accurately depict Sestak and reflect deep concern regarding his record by pro-Israel activists, including many Democrats? Absolutely.

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RE: Western Inaction on Lebanon

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

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Religious Intolerance in the Middle East: Where Should We Focus?

In the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, Menachem Rosensaft looks at Morocco’s expulsion of  Christian missionaries who were accused of proselytizing at a Moroccan orphanage earlier this year. As Rosensaft explains:

A group of Republican members of Congress have taken up the cause of the expelled Christian missionaries, which is, of course, their right. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Cao (R-La.) recently convened a [briefing] at which they urged Morocco to allow the deportees to return.

At the [briefing], some of the rhetoric turned ugly. Rep. Wolf called for the suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Morocco and compared the Moroccan government to the repressive Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the 1980’s. Rep. Pitts went further and likened the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities to “some of the tactics used by the Nazis.”

Rosensaft provides some much-needed perspective on the incident. Morocco, as he observes, is the least of our concerns when it comes to suppression of religious freedom in the Middle East:

The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim nation where Jews and Christian are able to practice their religions openly. Synagogues and churches stand alongside mosques, and the Moroccan government is a rare beacon of tolerance in an otherwise mostly religiously xenophobic Muslim world. Both King Muhammed VI and his late father, King Hassan, have publicly placed the Moroccan Jewish community under royal protection. As Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, reminds us, “during World War II, when Morocco was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco .” Moroccan law simultaneously guarantees freedom of religion and criminalizes proselytization. Morocco has also been a stalwart ally of the United States and the West.

Rosensaft notes that an anti-proselytizing law, common throughout the Middle East, is what is at issue and what was the basis for the missionaries’ expulsion. Rosensaft concludes:

Non-Muslims enjoy far greater freedom of religion in Morocco than in most other Muslim countries, and Americans who go there are fully aware that proselytizing is prohibited. There are no allegations that the Americans involved were tortured or physically mistreated. They were simply expelled from Morocco for refusing to abide by its laws.

Rosensaft is not alone in raising a cautionary flag. The World Jewish Congress last week wrote to the House Foreign Affairs Committee members and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Reps. Wolf and James McGovern. The letter included this:

As Chairman of the World Jewish Congress United States, I have met with Moroccan leaders on several occasions to discuss our shared commitment in building ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities. I am aware first hand that the Kingdom of Morocco is determined to strengthen interfaith relations. As has historically been the case, Morocco’s leaders continue to promote dialogue based on tolerant speech, good intention and honored objectives.

Morocco in the Middle East is a paradigm of religious freedom and tolerance. The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. During World War II, when France was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco. There are centuries old synagogues, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants throughout Morocco that are well kept by Muslims. And, there are close ties between Morocco and the State of Israel.

Raphael Benchimol, the rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, also wrote to Wolf this month, urging him to consider Morocco’s record on religious tolerance. He included this account of a synagogue trip this February:

We visited the sites of Moroccan synagogues, places of historic and religious importance to the Moroccan Jewish community, and the final resting places of many of the righteous Moroccan rabbis and sages who have rested in Morocco, in harmony, for thousands of years. Never once during our stay did I see any lack of religious tolerance or freedom. Never once did I sense the “precarious” situation you describe vis-à-vis our religion. To the contrary, I always felt safe and secure to pray and visit any of the Jewish sites without any fear whatsoever. The Muslim citizens of each of the cities we visited were polite, courteous and respectful of our religious tour. Indeed, I observed how many of the locals have a deep reverence for our holy sites. …

To give you an idea of how important the Jewish “minority religion” is to the King and to the Moroccan government, this past May we hosted a special event at our synagogue where several representatives of the Moroccan government, including Ambassador Mekouar, were present. Serge Berdugo, a Jewish Ambassador of the King of Morocco, beautifully presented to our congregants “His Majesty’s gracious and holy plan to identify, refurbish and protect all the Jewish cemeteries and mausoleums in Morocco.” The Ambassador also proudly announced that “as Commander of the faithful, His Majesty safeguards the sacred values of His subjects, Jew and Muslims alike.” This positive message as well as the gracious offer of the King was received with deep gratitude and sheer excitement by the entire congregation.

There is a disturbing pattern of religious oppression and intolerance in Muslim countries — but not in Morocco. The unfortunate situation at the Christian orphanage (how many of those exist in Muslim countries?) should not obscure this. As a savvy analyst explains, “They should never have let evangelicals run orphanages; that was the mistake. When a kid has no home to return to, the religious influence of those acting in loco parentis is inevitable.” But that is a discrete issue, and resolvable by the Moroccan government. It would seem that the best use of the time and focus of Congress — which is at least making a good effort to pick up the slack from an administration utterly indifferent to the issue of religious freedom — would be to focus on the worst actors in the Muslim World, not the best.

In the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, Menachem Rosensaft looks at Morocco’s expulsion of  Christian missionaries who were accused of proselytizing at a Moroccan orphanage earlier this year. As Rosensaft explains:

A group of Republican members of Congress have taken up the cause of the expelled Christian missionaries, which is, of course, their right. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Cao (R-La.) recently convened a [briefing] at which they urged Morocco to allow the deportees to return.

At the [briefing], some of the rhetoric turned ugly. Rep. Wolf called for the suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Morocco and compared the Moroccan government to the repressive Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the 1980’s. Rep. Pitts went further and likened the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities to “some of the tactics used by the Nazis.”

Rosensaft provides some much-needed perspective on the incident. Morocco, as he observes, is the least of our concerns when it comes to suppression of religious freedom in the Middle East:

The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim nation where Jews and Christian are able to practice their religions openly. Synagogues and churches stand alongside mosques, and the Moroccan government is a rare beacon of tolerance in an otherwise mostly religiously xenophobic Muslim world. Both King Muhammed VI and his late father, King Hassan, have publicly placed the Moroccan Jewish community under royal protection. As Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, reminds us, “during World War II, when Morocco was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco .” Moroccan law simultaneously guarantees freedom of religion and criminalizes proselytization. Morocco has also been a stalwart ally of the United States and the West.

Rosensaft notes that an anti-proselytizing law, common throughout the Middle East, is what is at issue and what was the basis for the missionaries’ expulsion. Rosensaft concludes:

Non-Muslims enjoy far greater freedom of religion in Morocco than in most other Muslim countries, and Americans who go there are fully aware that proselytizing is prohibited. There are no allegations that the Americans involved were tortured or physically mistreated. They were simply expelled from Morocco for refusing to abide by its laws.

Rosensaft is not alone in raising a cautionary flag. The World Jewish Congress last week wrote to the House Foreign Affairs Committee members and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Reps. Wolf and James McGovern. The letter included this:

As Chairman of the World Jewish Congress United States, I have met with Moroccan leaders on several occasions to discuss our shared commitment in building ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities. I am aware first hand that the Kingdom of Morocco is determined to strengthen interfaith relations. As has historically been the case, Morocco’s leaders continue to promote dialogue based on tolerant speech, good intention and honored objectives.

Morocco in the Middle East is a paradigm of religious freedom and tolerance. The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. During World War II, when France was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco. There are centuries old synagogues, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants throughout Morocco that are well kept by Muslims. And, there are close ties between Morocco and the State of Israel.

Raphael Benchimol, the rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, also wrote to Wolf this month, urging him to consider Morocco’s record on religious tolerance. He included this account of a synagogue trip this February:

We visited the sites of Moroccan synagogues, places of historic and religious importance to the Moroccan Jewish community, and the final resting places of many of the righteous Moroccan rabbis and sages who have rested in Morocco, in harmony, for thousands of years. Never once during our stay did I see any lack of religious tolerance or freedom. Never once did I sense the “precarious” situation you describe vis-à-vis our religion. To the contrary, I always felt safe and secure to pray and visit any of the Jewish sites without any fear whatsoever. The Muslim citizens of each of the cities we visited were polite, courteous and respectful of our religious tour. Indeed, I observed how many of the locals have a deep reverence for our holy sites. …

To give you an idea of how important the Jewish “minority religion” is to the King and to the Moroccan government, this past May we hosted a special event at our synagogue where several representatives of the Moroccan government, including Ambassador Mekouar, were present. Serge Berdugo, a Jewish Ambassador of the King of Morocco, beautifully presented to our congregants “His Majesty’s gracious and holy plan to identify, refurbish and protect all the Jewish cemeteries and mausoleums in Morocco.” The Ambassador also proudly announced that “as Commander of the faithful, His Majesty safeguards the sacred values of His subjects, Jew and Muslims alike.” This positive message as well as the gracious offer of the King was received with deep gratitude and sheer excitement by the entire congregation.

There is a disturbing pattern of religious oppression and intolerance in Muslim countries — but not in Morocco. The unfortunate situation at the Christian orphanage (how many of those exist in Muslim countries?) should not obscure this. As a savvy analyst explains, “They should never have let evangelicals run orphanages; that was the mistake. When a kid has no home to return to, the religious influence of those acting in loco parentis is inevitable.” But that is a discrete issue, and resolvable by the Moroccan government. It would seem that the best use of the time and focus of Congress — which is at least making a good effort to pick up the slack from an administration utterly indifferent to the issue of religious freedom — would be to focus on the worst actors in the Muslim World, not the best.

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How About Defunding Them?

In the “has everyone gone mad?” department, we’ve been following the story of the decision by the Woodrow Wilson International Center — a taxpayer-supported institution (Why exactly? Heritage and many other think tanks aren’t on the federal dole.) — to give an award to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Well, when you need to give a ridiculous explanation for an anti-Israel, anti-West, anti common-sense move and to avoid any sharp questioning, you go to Laura Rozen (who also transcribes J Street’s missives and is happy to funnel unsourced, anti-Semitic jibes against Dennis Ross), who dutifully reports the excuse:

Earlier this week, House Middle East Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) released a letter to Woodrow Wilson’s President former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) — his former chairman and colleague on the House Foreign Affairs Committee- – expressing displeasure that the think tank would honor the Turkish diplomat after Ankara has escalated tensions with Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid and voted against UN Iran sanctions.

But a Woodrow Wilson Center spokeswoman told POLITICO Thursday that as far as she knew, neither the Center nor Hamilton had received Ackerman’s letter.

“Awardees are not chosen for their political views,” Sharon McCarter, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s vice president for outreach and communications, told POLITICO in an e-mail.

“Mr. Davutoglu has had a diverse career as a scholar, a professor, a political scientist, an author, a civil servant, an international diplomat, and currently as Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs — a position he assumed in May 2009,” McCarter continued. “He also fits the Wilsonian mold of being both a scholar and a policymaker. He was invited to accept the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service in August 2009 in recognition of his lifelong service to the Turkish public in these many professional fields, many of which are similar to Woodrow Wilson’s life.

Apparently, she didn’t think to ask whether McCarter was serious. Would an award have been given to the foreign minister of South Africa during the apartheid? To a Soviet defense minister during the Cold War? Nor does she ask McCarter how it is remotely possible that a well-publicized letter excoriating the Center could have eluded Hamilton.

Here’s an idea: the Center sounds like it isn’t interested in furthering Western values or American interests. Fine. They can knock themselves out shoveling the same internationalist tripe that a dozen Washington think tanks do every day. The taxpayers just shouldn’t have to pay for it.( In fact why is government in the think tank business at all?) Any money spent on those with no moral compass is too much. Let ‘em fend for themselves.

In the “has everyone gone mad?” department, we’ve been following the story of the decision by the Woodrow Wilson International Center — a taxpayer-supported institution (Why exactly? Heritage and many other think tanks aren’t on the federal dole.) — to give an award to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Well, when you need to give a ridiculous explanation for an anti-Israel, anti-West, anti common-sense move and to avoid any sharp questioning, you go to Laura Rozen (who also transcribes J Street’s missives and is happy to funnel unsourced, anti-Semitic jibes against Dennis Ross), who dutifully reports the excuse:

Earlier this week, House Middle East Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) released a letter to Woodrow Wilson’s President former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) — his former chairman and colleague on the House Foreign Affairs Committee- – expressing displeasure that the think tank would honor the Turkish diplomat after Ankara has escalated tensions with Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid and voted against UN Iran sanctions.

But a Woodrow Wilson Center spokeswoman told POLITICO Thursday that as far as she knew, neither the Center nor Hamilton had received Ackerman’s letter.

“Awardees are not chosen for their political views,” Sharon McCarter, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s vice president for outreach and communications, told POLITICO in an e-mail.

“Mr. Davutoglu has had a diverse career as a scholar, a professor, a political scientist, an author, a civil servant, an international diplomat, and currently as Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs — a position he assumed in May 2009,” McCarter continued. “He also fits the Wilsonian mold of being both a scholar and a policymaker. He was invited to accept the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service in August 2009 in recognition of his lifelong service to the Turkish public in these many professional fields, many of which are similar to Woodrow Wilson’s life.

Apparently, she didn’t think to ask whether McCarter was serious. Would an award have been given to the foreign minister of South Africa during the apartheid? To a Soviet defense minister during the Cold War? Nor does she ask McCarter how it is remotely possible that a well-publicized letter excoriating the Center could have eluded Hamilton.

Here’s an idea: the Center sounds like it isn’t interested in furthering Western values or American interests. Fine. They can knock themselves out shoveling the same internationalist tripe that a dozen Washington think tanks do every day. The taxpayers just shouldn’t have to pay for it.( In fact why is government in the think tank business at all?) Any money spent on those with no moral compass is too much. Let ‘em fend for themselves.

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Obama Is for Weaker Iran Sanctions

Obama, no doubt believing that phony Iran sanctions will bring praise — after all, he got cheers from mainstream Jewish groups on the UN agreement — is continuing to press Congress for weaker sanctions in the wake of the UN vote. Yes, yes he promised that the really tough stuff was coming, but he didn’t really mean they’d be effective. Obama would rather cut Iran a break than annoy its new friends (who have done what, exactly, for us lately?), China and Russia, or our European allies, which have stepped up the Israel-bashing:

U.S. sanctions have strong support in Congress, and the administration backs them in principle as a way to strengthen the mild strictures adopted on Wednesday by the U.N. Security Council. But the administration fears that the legislation also could damage relations with Europe, Russia and China, all of whom cooperated with U.S. efforts on the U.N. sanctions.

To avoid that possibility, the administration wants authority to waive U.S. punishment against companies from countries that have cooperated on Iran.

Many lawmakers are wary. Some say the Obama administration, like its predecessors, has been lax in enforcing existing Iran sanctions out of concern for good relations with other world powers.

“The administration doesn’t carry out the laws that are on the books, and they want the new law to be as weak and loophole-ridden as possible,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who has been pushing for years for such legislation.

Republicans have been ratcheting up their demands for Congress to hang tough, arguing that the U.N. resolution fell short of what was needed.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the U.N. sanctions a “goose egg” and demanded that Congress impose “crippling sanctions against Iran.”

It seems that no matter how gingerly Obama is treated by Jewish groups — make the Reid-McConnnell letter less offensive, praise Obama for a UN Security Statement singling out Israel, cheer the ludicrous UN sanctions — he never comes through with a tougher line on Iran or a warmer one on Israel. As one Capitol Hill staffer put it, “Everyone wants to treat the administration with kid gloves as if suddenly a hawkish and pro-Israel Obama will emerge.”

Well, that’s as silly as “engaging” Iran or “resetting” relations with Russia by capitulating on everything Putin wants. It seems Obama has been taking all those Jewish leaders, who come to the White House for “reassurance,” for a ride. Tougher sanctions aren’t coming along if Obama can help it. After all, stopping a nuclear-armed Iran isn’t nearly as important as keeping things chummy with unco-operative allies and despotic regimes.

Obama, no doubt believing that phony Iran sanctions will bring praise — after all, he got cheers from mainstream Jewish groups on the UN agreement — is continuing to press Congress for weaker sanctions in the wake of the UN vote. Yes, yes he promised that the really tough stuff was coming, but he didn’t really mean they’d be effective. Obama would rather cut Iran a break than annoy its new friends (who have done what, exactly, for us lately?), China and Russia, or our European allies, which have stepped up the Israel-bashing:

U.S. sanctions have strong support in Congress, and the administration backs them in principle as a way to strengthen the mild strictures adopted on Wednesday by the U.N. Security Council. But the administration fears that the legislation also could damage relations with Europe, Russia and China, all of whom cooperated with U.S. efforts on the U.N. sanctions.

To avoid that possibility, the administration wants authority to waive U.S. punishment against companies from countries that have cooperated on Iran.

Many lawmakers are wary. Some say the Obama administration, like its predecessors, has been lax in enforcing existing Iran sanctions out of concern for good relations with other world powers.

“The administration doesn’t carry out the laws that are on the books, and they want the new law to be as weak and loophole-ridden as possible,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who has been pushing for years for such legislation.

Republicans have been ratcheting up their demands for Congress to hang tough, arguing that the U.N. resolution fell short of what was needed.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the U.N. sanctions a “goose egg” and demanded that Congress impose “crippling sanctions against Iran.”

It seems that no matter how gingerly Obama is treated by Jewish groups — make the Reid-McConnnell letter less offensive, praise Obama for a UN Security Statement singling out Israel, cheer the ludicrous UN sanctions — he never comes through with a tougher line on Iran or a warmer one on Israel. As one Capitol Hill staffer put it, “Everyone wants to treat the administration with kid gloves as if suddenly a hawkish and pro-Israel Obama will emerge.”

Well, that’s as silly as “engaging” Iran or “resetting” relations with Russia by capitulating on everything Putin wants. It seems Obama has been taking all those Jewish leaders, who come to the White House for “reassurance,” for a ride. Tougher sanctions aren’t coming along if Obama can help it. After all, stopping a nuclear-armed Iran isn’t nearly as important as keeping things chummy with unco-operative allies and despotic regimes.

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You Don’t Have to Be a Weatherman . . .

As Jen noted this morning, it’s obvious how the Obama administration “understands” its role on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Last month, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, sent a letter to every member of Congress asserting that the Obama administration’s “sustained engagement” with the UNHRC  had “reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel” and proved that “engagement works.” He described the “hard-fought” victory of keeping Iran off the UNHRC, adding that Iran’s assumption of a seat would have delivered “a fatal blow to the UN’s credibility.”

Having saved the UNHRC from a fatal blow to its credibility, the Obama administration has continued to treat it as if it were a bona fide organization. Yesterday, the UNHRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel and initiate a new Goldstone-type “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned. The key portion of the State Department news conference that Jen cites is the repeated statement by spokesman P.J. Crowley that the U.S. “understands” the action:

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we understand that. One of the reasons why we joined the Human Rights Council was that we hope that over time that it would take a more balanced and appropriate response to urgent situations. … And as our statement indicated, we believe that this particular resolution is a rushed judgment. It risks further politicizing a sensitive and volatile situation. …  But we respect the fact that other countries may have a different view.

QUESTION: So in the 18 months that – or 15, 16 months that you’ve been on the council, have you seen it improve?

MR. CROWLEY: We think our presence on the council is positive and constructive.

QUESTION: And how did that manifest itself in this vote?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there was – I mean, all we can do – we have a vote. (Laughter.) We don’t dictate what the Human Rights Council —

QUESTION: Well, the previous administration didn’t – I mean, didn’t – they basically ignored the whole council because of situations like this.

MR. CROWLEY: And we don’t think ignoring these issues —

QUESTION: So your no vote is enough?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the no vote is what we’re empowered to do as part of the Human Rights Council. We will continue to work – I mean, we’ll engage in the Human Rights Council just as we’re engaging on the margins of the International Criminal Court Review Conference. … But we understand that there’ll be times where our view may carry the day, and there’ll be times where our – other countries have different points of view.

The prior administration would not have joined the UNHRC in the first place; it would have quit after the Goldstone Report demonstrated the Council’s nature beyond dispute; and it would have quit after the Council voted yesterday to do it again. In contrast, the current administration “understands” the vote and will just keep on “engaging” and congratulating itself for its “positive and constructive” contributions.

You don’t have to be a horseman to spot a weak horse.

As Jen noted this morning, it’s obvious how the Obama administration “understands” its role on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Last month, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, sent a letter to every member of Congress asserting that the Obama administration’s “sustained engagement” with the UNHRC  had “reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel” and proved that “engagement works.” He described the “hard-fought” victory of keeping Iran off the UNHRC, adding that Iran’s assumption of a seat would have delivered “a fatal blow to the UN’s credibility.”

Having saved the UNHRC from a fatal blow to its credibility, the Obama administration has continued to treat it as if it were a bona fide organization. Yesterday, the UNHRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel and initiate a new Goldstone-type “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned. The key portion of the State Department news conference that Jen cites is the repeated statement by spokesman P.J. Crowley that the U.S. “understands” the action:

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we understand that. One of the reasons why we joined the Human Rights Council was that we hope that over time that it would take a more balanced and appropriate response to urgent situations. … And as our statement indicated, we believe that this particular resolution is a rushed judgment. It risks further politicizing a sensitive and volatile situation. …  But we respect the fact that other countries may have a different view.

QUESTION: So in the 18 months that – or 15, 16 months that you’ve been on the council, have you seen it improve?

MR. CROWLEY: We think our presence on the council is positive and constructive.

QUESTION: And how did that manifest itself in this vote?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there was – I mean, all we can do – we have a vote. (Laughter.) We don’t dictate what the Human Rights Council —

QUESTION: Well, the previous administration didn’t – I mean, didn’t – they basically ignored the whole council because of situations like this.

MR. CROWLEY: And we don’t think ignoring these issues —

QUESTION: So your no vote is enough?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the no vote is what we’re empowered to do as part of the Human Rights Council. We will continue to work – I mean, we’ll engage in the Human Rights Council just as we’re engaging on the margins of the International Criminal Court Review Conference. … But we understand that there’ll be times where our view may carry the day, and there’ll be times where our – other countries have different points of view.

The prior administration would not have joined the UNHRC in the first place; it would have quit after the Goldstone Report demonstrated the Council’s nature beyond dispute; and it would have quit after the Council voted yesterday to do it again. In contrast, the current administration “understands” the vote and will just keep on “engaging” and congratulating itself for its “positive and constructive” contributions.

You don’t have to be a horseman to spot a weak horse.

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Too Busy to Enforce Sanctions

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

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Finally Moving on a Sanctions Bill?

Ben Smith reports:

A source notes that the House Foreign Affairs Committee is, according to the Congressional Record, selecting conferees for legislation aimed at imposing tough sanctions on Iran, despite the notable lack of White House enthusiasm.

A letter calling for “crippling sanctions” now has the support of more than 80% of the members of both bodies, but the White House continues to try to rally support for sanctions from Russia and China, which appear reluctant to impose sanctions.

The move toward conference suggests that chairman Howard Berman and the House leadership are ready to push ahead on sanctions in Congress, which could add pressure to the international negotiations.

Do we believe this? After all, it’s April, and we’ve still not had a conference. Berman fancies himself as a great defender of Israel who is very concerned about the existential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran, yet he’s been foot-dragging for months, no doubt at the behest of the White House. So now we’re maybe going to have a meeting? And then there is the Senate side, where Sens. Kerry, Dodd, Durbin, and Reid were noticeably absent from the letters calling for movement on the sanctions bill. One supposes they are throwing sand in the gears, as well. Let’s see how quickly the conference moves forward and whether something hits the president’s desk before the expected completion of UN sanctions. (June? Six months from never?)

Ben Smith reports:

A source notes that the House Foreign Affairs Committee is, according to the Congressional Record, selecting conferees for legislation aimed at imposing tough sanctions on Iran, despite the notable lack of White House enthusiasm.

A letter calling for “crippling sanctions” now has the support of more than 80% of the members of both bodies, but the White House continues to try to rally support for sanctions from Russia and China, which appear reluctant to impose sanctions.

The move toward conference suggests that chairman Howard Berman and the House leadership are ready to push ahead on sanctions in Congress, which could add pressure to the international negotiations.

Do we believe this? After all, it’s April, and we’ve still not had a conference. Berman fancies himself as a great defender of Israel who is very concerned about the existential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran, yet he’s been foot-dragging for months, no doubt at the behest of the White House. So now we’re maybe going to have a meeting? And then there is the Senate side, where Sens. Kerry, Dodd, Durbin, and Reid were noticeably absent from the letters calling for movement on the sanctions bill. One supposes they are throwing sand in the gears, as well. Let’s see how quickly the conference moves forward and whether something hits the president’s desk before the expected completion of UN sanctions. (June? Six months from never?)

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Notes on an Ongoing Process

At Friday’s State Department news conference, one of the reporters asked Asst. Secretary of State P. J. Crowley about stories that the U.S. has watered down the proposals it has put on the table for sanctions. Crowley responded there were “significant inaccuracies” in the reports because… you can’t water down something when there is nothing to water down:

MR. CROWLEY: Clearly, we are consulting broadly as we envision how to put the appropriate level of pressure on the Iranian Government as part of our dual-track strategy. But in order to take something off the table, you have to actually put something on the table. We have not circulated a draft resolution. We are still in the consulting stage. …

But since we have not circulated a draft resolution, it’s hard to say at this point that we’re watering anything down. There’s nothing to water down. There’s nothing to take off the table. So this is an ongoing process.

So the reporter tried again:

QUESTION: Let me ask it a different way. If – understanding that there is no physical text and that nothing has been put on paper, in this idea of trading ideas back and forth on what could be included in an eventual document, would it be fair to say that some ideas have, in fact, been shot down during that process, which it would appear the article (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s an ongoing process. So again, I think this whole aspect is fairly premature. I mean, we have our views on what the appropriate measures might be. Other countries have a variety of views of their own, and so this is an ongoing process. …

We want to make sure that our calibration sends the right signal and puts the right pressure on the government, but spares undue hardship on the Iranian people. So there’s as much art to science in this, and this is an ongoing process.

So the reporter tried one more time:

QUESTION: Just one more on it, you did say that there were significant inaccuracies in the stories. Can you be more specific about what you find inaccurate?

MR. CROWLEY: I just think it’s premature.

QUESTION: Was it (inaudible) substantives that they were talking about it or was it the fact that things aren’t on what you call the table?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say that in the course of this dialogue, certainly we will say what about this, and another country might say, “Nah, I don’t know about that. What about this?” …

Certainly, there are – will all of the ideas that we’ve discussed end up in a final resolution? No. But I think we are seeking a strong resolution with sanctions that have the appropriate bite, have the impact on the Iranian Government that we seek, and hopefully, with no guarantee, that it will cause Iran to reevaluate the course that it’s on.

Nearly a year ago, Hillary Clinton assured the House Foreign Affairs Committee the administration was laying the groundwork for “crippling” sanctions if “our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.” It is apparent now that the groundwork was not laid last year; crippling sanctions are not currently being discussed; and there is not yet even a draft resolution for sanctions with bite. We are going around saying, “What about this?” And other countries are saying “Nah.”

But it’s an ongoing process. The watering down will come later, when there is something to water down.

At Friday’s State Department news conference, one of the reporters asked Asst. Secretary of State P. J. Crowley about stories that the U.S. has watered down the proposals it has put on the table for sanctions. Crowley responded there were “significant inaccuracies” in the reports because… you can’t water down something when there is nothing to water down:

MR. CROWLEY: Clearly, we are consulting broadly as we envision how to put the appropriate level of pressure on the Iranian Government as part of our dual-track strategy. But in order to take something off the table, you have to actually put something on the table. We have not circulated a draft resolution. We are still in the consulting stage. …

But since we have not circulated a draft resolution, it’s hard to say at this point that we’re watering anything down. There’s nothing to water down. There’s nothing to take off the table. So this is an ongoing process.

So the reporter tried again:

QUESTION: Let me ask it a different way. If – understanding that there is no physical text and that nothing has been put on paper, in this idea of trading ideas back and forth on what could be included in an eventual document, would it be fair to say that some ideas have, in fact, been shot down during that process, which it would appear the article (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s an ongoing process. So again, I think this whole aspect is fairly premature. I mean, we have our views on what the appropriate measures might be. Other countries have a variety of views of their own, and so this is an ongoing process. …

We want to make sure that our calibration sends the right signal and puts the right pressure on the government, but spares undue hardship on the Iranian people. So there’s as much art to science in this, and this is an ongoing process.

So the reporter tried one more time:

QUESTION: Just one more on it, you did say that there were significant inaccuracies in the stories. Can you be more specific about what you find inaccurate?

MR. CROWLEY: I just think it’s premature.

QUESTION: Was it (inaudible) substantives that they were talking about it or was it the fact that things aren’t on what you call the table?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say that in the course of this dialogue, certainly we will say what about this, and another country might say, “Nah, I don’t know about that. What about this?” …

Certainly, there are – will all of the ideas that we’ve discussed end up in a final resolution? No. But I think we are seeking a strong resolution with sanctions that have the appropriate bite, have the impact on the Iranian Government that we seek, and hopefully, with no guarantee, that it will cause Iran to reevaluate the course that it’s on.

Nearly a year ago, Hillary Clinton assured the House Foreign Affairs Committee the administration was laying the groundwork for “crippling” sanctions if “our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.” It is apparent now that the groundwork was not laid last year; crippling sanctions are not currently being discussed; and there is not yet even a draft resolution for sanctions with bite. We are going around saying, “What about this?” And other countries are saying “Nah.”

But it’s an ongoing process. The watering down will come later, when there is something to water down.

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The Moral-Equivalence Trap

Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined other lawmakers in issuing a statement on the Obami’s war of words on Israel. It was a mixed bag — at best:

The Administration had real justification for being upset with the timing of the settlements announcement. A process was supposed to be in place to keep the United States from being blindsided by just such a development, and yet once again we were blindsided. The Israeli leadership needs to get this right and put a system in place so it won’t happen again.

But let’s put the situation in perspective. The United States and Israel have very good cooperation on any number of matters, and this will continue. These include keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the Goldstone Report, and security assistance. U.S.-Israel security ties are in many ways closer than they have ever been, and they are certainly far stronger than the news stories of the past few days would lead one to believe.

We need to disentangle bilateral relations from the peace process. Let’s keep in mind that peace talks are not a gift to one party or the other. They are an opportunity for both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom badly need peace. The Palestinians may not like an Israeli announcement about prospective housing in Jerusalem, and the Israelis may not like the Palestinians naming a town square after a brutal terrorist, but the talks need to go forward.

On the one hand, the notion that we should “disentangle our bilateral relations from the peace process” is a welcome rebuke to Obama’s obsession with the fruitless peace process. The last statement, however, is an appalling example of moral relativism. Does Berman — who should know better — really mean to equate the extension of an apartment complex in Jerusalem with the Palestinian celebration of terrorism? Apparently so. One suspects that so do the Obami. Indeed, in the administration’s view, the apartment complex build-out warrants a “condemnation,” but the Palestinian cult of death does not. In fact the Obami’s current stance and rhetoric is worse than moral relativism: the White House has adopted the Palestinian narrative and now treats incitement to violence as a less egregious matter than the building of an apartment complex within a Jewish neighborhood of Israel’s capital.

The current crisis, if it has a silver lining, has at least made clear who embraces the Israeli narrative — namely, that the barrier to peace is 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism — and who does not. Regrettably, the administration does not. The Obami, and a certain segment of the Left in America, have forgotten a good deal of history and have embraced a far different view — one that finds sympathy in the Palestinians’ perpetual victimhood. It remains to be seen how the differences in perception between the U.S. administration and Israel will play out. For now, Americans who fancy themselves as supporters of the Jewish state would do well to avoid Berman’s egregious error and remind the administration (which is obsessed with domestic politics) that such talk will find little support among the public generally, which thankfully still sees Israel not as the cause of the Middle East conflict but as a democratic ally besieged by terrorists and facing implacable enemies.

Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined other lawmakers in issuing a statement on the Obami’s war of words on Israel. It was a mixed bag — at best:

The Administration had real justification for being upset with the timing of the settlements announcement. A process was supposed to be in place to keep the United States from being blindsided by just such a development, and yet once again we were blindsided. The Israeli leadership needs to get this right and put a system in place so it won’t happen again.

But let’s put the situation in perspective. The United States and Israel have very good cooperation on any number of matters, and this will continue. These include keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the Goldstone Report, and security assistance. U.S.-Israel security ties are in many ways closer than they have ever been, and they are certainly far stronger than the news stories of the past few days would lead one to believe.

We need to disentangle bilateral relations from the peace process. Let’s keep in mind that peace talks are not a gift to one party or the other. They are an opportunity for both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom badly need peace. The Palestinians may not like an Israeli announcement about prospective housing in Jerusalem, and the Israelis may not like the Palestinians naming a town square after a brutal terrorist, but the talks need to go forward.

On the one hand, the notion that we should “disentangle our bilateral relations from the peace process” is a welcome rebuke to Obama’s obsession with the fruitless peace process. The last statement, however, is an appalling example of moral relativism. Does Berman — who should know better — really mean to equate the extension of an apartment complex in Jerusalem with the Palestinian celebration of terrorism? Apparently so. One suspects that so do the Obami. Indeed, in the administration’s view, the apartment complex build-out warrants a “condemnation,” but the Palestinian cult of death does not. In fact the Obami’s current stance and rhetoric is worse than moral relativism: the White House has adopted the Palestinian narrative and now treats incitement to violence as a less egregious matter than the building of an apartment complex within a Jewish neighborhood of Israel’s capital.

The current crisis, if it has a silver lining, has at least made clear who embraces the Israeli narrative — namely, that the barrier to peace is 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism — and who does not. Regrettably, the administration does not. The Obami, and a certain segment of the Left in America, have forgotten a good deal of history and have embraced a far different view — one that finds sympathy in the Palestinians’ perpetual victimhood. It remains to be seen how the differences in perception between the U.S. administration and Israel will play out. For now, Americans who fancy themselves as supporters of the Jewish state would do well to avoid Berman’s egregious error and remind the administration (which is obsessed with domestic politics) that such talk will find little support among the public generally, which thankfully still sees Israel not as the cause of the Middle East conflict but as a democratic ally besieged by terrorists and facing implacable enemies.

Read Less




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