Aipac Mounts New Offensive to Display Support of Congress

The American pro-Israel lobby is mounting a new offensive to equate the U.S.-led war on terrorism with Israel’s own battle against terror.

Timed to coincide with the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, U.S. lawmakers have introduced several pieces of legislation to display support for Israel in Congress and combat what is viewed as increasing pressure on the Bush administration’s Middle East policy from Europe, Arab states and the United Nations.

“Israel is on the front lines of the war on terrorism and she must have the resources to continue defending herself,” said Howard Kohr, executive director of AIPAC.

Kohr touted the proposals in a speech at AIPAC’s annual policy conference on Monday.

The conference drew 5,000 delegates from around the country, double last year’s attendance, in a sign that American Jews are revved up in the fight to ensure that the U.S. government stands behind Israel.

The bills, all introduced last week at the urging of AIPAC, seek:

additional aid for Israel to combat its war on terrorism;

sanctions against the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Yasser Arafat; and

the inclusion of Syria in the president’s “axis of evil.”

AIPAC delegates were scheduled to lobby their members of Congress on the issues on Tuesday.

The mere introduction of these bills in Congress, which Kohr called “the firewall for Israel,” is expected to show the Arab world the possible consequences of continued support for terrorism.

At the same time, even though the bills and initiatives may never be enacted, the aim is to pro-actively demonstrate the depth of congressional support for Israel as the Bush administration continues to reassess its policy in the Middle East.

One of the more substantive initiatives is a complete overhaul by the Senate of the Middle East Peace Commitments Act, which has been introduced several times before, but has never gone anywhere.

The new bill, introduced in the Senate and dubbed the “Arafat Accountability Act,” denies visas to Arafat and other PLO officials, downgrades the PLO office in Washington, imposes travel restrictions on senior PLO officials at the United Nations, and seizes the American financial assets of PLO and Palestinian Authority officials, including Arafat.

The bill also requires the president to detail acts of terrorism engaged in by the Palestine Liberation Organization every 90 days, and if necessary, deem the group a foreign terrorist organization.

“And so our legislation we believe is a way to give members of the Senate an opportunity to send him a message that now is the time to miss no more opportunities,” McConnell said of Arafat.

But the new version already assumes that the Palestinians are non-compliant, and requires the punishments.

This bill continues to carry a national security waiver, which allows the president to withhold sanctions in the interests of national security.

Feinstein and McConnell pulled back a similar proposal last year after receiving a request from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Powell said he believed the bill would jeopardize the international war on terrorism. State Department officials said they were reviewing the legislation and have refrained from further comment.

McConnell said the sponsors had no intention of bringing this bill to a vote anytime soon, but wanted to introduce it and garner co-sponsors to send a message to Arafat.

“It is long past time for Congress to send a clear message that Syrian-backed terrorism must stop,” Armey said last week when he introduced the legislation.

“We intend to give our president all the support and tools he needs to turn Syria away from using terrorist violence as state policy.”

The sanctions in the Syria bill would also carry a presidential waiver.

While some members of Congress are seeking to reprimand Middle Eastern entities, some colleagues in both houses of Congress are hoping to send a positive message to Israel, with non-binding resolutions being proposed in support of Israel.

The bill calls on Arab states to condemn terrorism, commends President Bush for his leadership “in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and requests additional aid for Israel’s defense needs.

The non-binding bill, which does not specify any specific amount of aid, was expected to be voted on by the House of Representatives this week.

While the three initiatives highlight AIPAC’s focus for the upcoming year, the organization’s action agenda spells out additional priorities.

The lobby group delved into the national energy debate, supporting a plan that will reduce U.S. reliance on “unstable and unfriendly” Middle East sources of oil, including Iraq.

AIPAC calls on additional energy efficiency and the development of alternative sources of energy to balance the foreign reliance.

The group’s executive committee also adopted resolutions calling on the United States to seek the capture of Palestinian Arabs who kill Americans, and urging the U.S. administration to refer to the West Bank and Gaza as “disputed territories” instead of “occupied territories.”

Both of those resolutions were put forth by Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, who sits on AIPAC’s executive committee.

Another amendment proposed by Klein, calling for support for the right of Jews to live in Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, failed to pass the executive committee and was not included in the action agenda.

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