NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

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House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) spearheaded a number of important pieces of legislation.
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Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) authored a measure sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran.
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Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a resolution urging the administration to lead the opposition to unilateral Palestinian statehood efforts. Republican Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) introduced a corresponding resolution in the House.

A Legislative Look Back at 2011

Congress helped ensure Israel’s security and strengthened the U.S.-Israel relationship in 2011 through a series of resolutions and letters pertaining to Iran, Syria, the Palestinians and foreign aid. Here are a few of the many important legislative developments from the past year in the House and Senate:

February 16: Sixty-seven freshmen Republican House members signed a letter to the Republican leadership voicing strong support for full funding of aid to Israel despite an austere spending environment. The letter, which was spearheaded by Reps. Bob Dold (R-IL) and Austin Scott (R-GA), states that the lawmakers’ support for Israel’s security assistance rests on their “recognition that the national security of the United States is directly tied to the strength and security of the State of Israel.”

March 17: A bipartisan group of 326 members of the House signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging all branches of the U.S. government to underline to prospective Egyptian leaders and opposition figures the importance of Egypt’s international obligations, specifically its peace treaty with Israel. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) coauthored the letter, which emphasizes that it is in both American and Egyptian interests that peace between Egypt and Israel be maintained.

April 1: Eleven Republican freshman senators sent a letter to Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recommending the United States fully honor its commitment to Israel as agreed upon in the 2007 U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding. “[I]n light of the ongoing threats from Hezbollah, Hamas and a nuclear Iran, we believe that U.S. security assistance to Israel will continue to be a key national security interest,” said the letter, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

April 14: The Senate passed by unanimous consent a resolution (S.R. 138) calling on the United Nations to rescind the Goldstone Report. In light of Judge Goldstone’s recanting of the report, the resolution calls on the U.N. Human Rights Council to “reflect the author’s repudiations of the Goldstone report’s central findings, rescind the report, and reconsider further Council action with respect to the report’s findings.” The resolution was authored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Jim Risch (R-ID) and cosponsored by 32 senators.

April 15: President Obama signed the fiscal year 2011 spending bill, which included $3 billion in military aid to Israel and $205 million for the Iron Dome rocket defense system, as part of $415 million in funding allocated to U.S.-Israel cooperative defense programs.

June 28: The Senate unanimously passed a resolution (S.R. 185) urging the administration to lead the opposition to unilateral Palestinian statehood efforts and to work toward the resumption of direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. The resolution—introduced by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and cosponsored by 89 Senators—also expressed concern about a Palestinian unity government that would include a Hamas that does not accept the Quartet principles.

July 7: The House passed a resolution (H.R. 268) corresponding to S.R. 185 by a vote of 407-6. The measure calls on the administration to lead opposition to Palestinian efforts to seek statehood via the United Nations and warns of repercussions for U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority (PA), including a suspension of American aid, if a new Palestinian government includes an unreformed Hamas and if the PA continues to pursue statehood outside the negotiation process. The resolution was introduced by Republican Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and cosponsored by 357 members of the House.

August 3: A bipartisan group of 68 senators sent a letter to President Obama urging the administration to take a tougher stance against Syria and to fully enforce the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003. The letter, led by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), called for “a ban on U.S. businesses operating or investing in Syria, restrictions on travel by Syrian diplomats in the United States, and blocking transactions of property in which the Government of Syria has an interest.”

August 5: A bipartisan group of 231 House members sent a letter to President Obama calling on the administration to tighten sanctions on the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Howard Berman (D-CA), ranking member of the Committee, led the effort. The original cosigners also include Reps. Connie Mack (R-FL), Elliot Engel (D-NY), Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Gary Ackerman (D-NY).

August 9: Ninety-two senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to sanction Iran’s central bank. The letter was authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Charles Schumer (D-NY).

December 1: The Senate passed by a vote of 100-0 an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act sanctioning Iran’s central bank and barring foreign financial institutions that do business with it from operating in the United States. The amendment was authored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL).

December 14: The House passed the Iran Threat Reduction Act (H.R. 1905) by a vote of 410-11. The legislation tightens the enforcement of existing sanctions law, imposes tough new sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, mandates sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and enshrines in law that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The bill, introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA), had 360 cosponsors.

December 14: The House passed the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Reform and Modernization Act of 2011 (H.R. 2105) by a vote of 418-2. The measure strengthens existing U.S. sanctions against foreign entities that provide nuclear, chemical or biological weapons components to Iran, North Korea or Syria, and, for the first time, imposes sanctions on foreign entities that provide to or acquire from these countries any goods or technology that could be used for military applications. It was introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and had 46 cosponsors.

December 14-15: The House and Senate approved the $662 billion National Defense Authorization Act. The bill includes a provision previously passed in the Senate to sanction Iran’s central bank, and it authorizes $216.1 million for U.S.-Israeli cooperative missile defense programs, more than double the President’s budget request for these programs. Funding was specifically allocated for David’s Sling development, the Arrow System Improvement Program, and the Arrow-3 interceptor development. President Obama signed the bill into law on Dec. 31.

December 16-17: The House and Senate passed the fiscal year 2012 “megabus” appropriations bill, which includes the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. The bill conditions aid to the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Lebanon on the fulfillment of a number of provisions. It states that no economic assistance may be provided to the Palestinians if they obtain state or member status at the United Nations or any specialized agency, and that in such an event the PLO office in Washington will be closed. Also included is full funding to Israel, $3.075 billion, in accordance with the U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding, and $2 million to fund the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Program.

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