UPDATE AND BACKGROUND:
Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006


Pending Congressional legislation (HR 4681/S. 2370) introduced in the aftermath of the Palestinian elections has started to move, albeit in a modified form. Washington Representative Rob Levy provides a detailed update on the status of these bills. Brit Tzedek also has developed background materials on humanitarian aid and the elections to help you understand the context for and significance of this legislation. We hope this information will provide clarity on the importance of participation in Brit Tzedek's National Advocacy Days June 18-20 in Washington, DC.

Background Materials:

Palestinian Humanitarian Aid: Vital to Israelis and Palestinians Alike

Palestinian Elections: Implications for the Peace Process

Q and A: 2006 Palestinian Parliamentary Elections

Palestinian Sanctions Legislation Faces Opposition but Moves Forward
By Rob Levy, Washington Representative

What is going on in Washington?
Much to the surprise of supporters and opponents alike of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 (H.R. 4681/S. 2370), Congress did not jump at the opportunity to pass this punitive legislation, introduced in response to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections last January. Whereas most bills facilely labeled "pro-Israel" have already secured a majority of Congressional co-sponsorships by the time they are introduced, these bills took over two months to reach that mark, despite the intensive lobbying efforts on their behalf.

The original version of the House bill, H.R. 4681, contained a series of extremely restrictive regulations that would cut all funding to the Palestinian people and sever all US diplomatic relations with the Palestinian government, including with moderate Palestinians such as President Mahmoud Abbas. The bill was slow to gain momentum, yet after weeks of backroom negotiations, the House International Relations Committee passed, 36-2, a significantly less restrictive version of H.R. 4681. Notably, the amended bill allows a waiver for US aid directed towards independent elections and the peace process, reduces (albeit slightly) the onerous process for granting humanitarian assistance to NGOs working in the West Bank and Gaza, and provides a waiver for the prohibition on the PLO office in Washington.

The Senate bill, S. 2370, upon introduction represented a vastly moderated version of the original House bill. S. 2370 provides waivers similar to the amended House text, and also carves out important exemptions for dealing with President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate who supports peace with Israel and condemns terror. Interestingly, there continues to be speculation that further amendments may make the Senate bill even less restrictive.

Despite the positive steps taken away from the original House legislation, both S. 2370 and H.R. 4681, as currently written, significantly restrict the U.S. role in bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table and directing them to a two-state resolution of the conflict. Their sanctions and restrictions weaken moderate pro-peace Palestinian voices and embolden extremists, tie the President's hands in dealing with emergency security crises, and drastically cut critical US assistance to the Palestinian people, which helps build Palestinian civil infrastructure.

Why the hesitation?
There has been a lot of speculation about why Congress did not pass these bills in great haste, as it typically does for legislation labeled "anti-terrorism" or "pro-Israel." First of all, these bills propose drastic legal changes to US foreign policy, unlike past resolutions on this issue, which have simply provided Congress' perspective on the situation without changing law. Some in Congress have clearly recognized the ramifications of this legislation and the subsequent need for deliberation over its provisions. Furthermore, expressions of concern by the Israeli government, the Quartet, and the US Administration have brought significant pressure to bear on Congress.

Brit Tzedek's active opposition to this bill also clearly played a role in the bill's moderation. Our grassroots activists have held home district meetings, made phone calls and written letters to get the message to Congress that the American Jewish community does not monolithically support legislation which places obstacles in the path to peace, despite our collective horror and dismay at the election of Hamas. The letter to President Bush signed by 400 rabbis from across the country and the denominational spectrum, and sent to the Hill, certainly brought that point home. Organized by Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet, the rabbis' letter urged "constructive engagement" with the new Palestinian government and continued humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.

What's next for Congress?
Congress returns from its spring recess today, and, unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the legislation now has a majority of co-sponsors in the House (271 out of 434) and the Senate  (79 out of 100), making its passage likely. Members of Congress are under a great deal of pressure to sign on to what has been labeled as "anti-Hamas," "anti-terror" legislation. In addition, the Hamas refusal to condemn last week's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and justification of it as an act of "self-defense" has done little to foster a more supportive climate.

The timetable for voting on this legislation, however, is still unclear and largely dependent on the actions of the Administration and new House Majority Leader John Boehner. We will keep you apprised of these developments.

What's next for Brit Tzedek?
Brit Tzedek is gaining influence in Washington and we hope that you will help us bring our message of a negotiated two-state solution to the Hill by participating in Brit Tzedek's National Advocacy Days on June 18-20, 2006, in Washington, DC. See full agenda here.

Together, we will bring the voice of our over 33,000 supporters directly to the halls of power. Participants will hear from DC insiders about current Congressional and Administration thinking on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, learn how best to influence policy decisions, and then head over to the Hill to carry our message directly to our lawmakers.

With your help, Brit Tzedek will continue to oppose this legislation.
  • If you have not yet done so through our online Action Alert, please contact your Representative and urge them not to support H.R. 4681.

  • If your Representative is not yet a cosponsor (view list of cosponsors), call your Representative and urge him or her not to support and not to cosponsor H.R. 4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act. Please mention that you are a constituent and an American Jew. You can find your Representative and their phone number here.

  • If you live in a chapter area, please volunteer to help your chapter leadership set up meetings with your Members of Congress. If you have any questions on who to contact, write chapter@btvshalom.org.

  • If you are not near a chapter, but would like to start one, please contact chapter@btvshalom.org.
Learn more:

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206
info@btvshalom.org
www.btvshalom.org


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