Americans for Peace Now is glad that two Middle East-related amendments to the appropriations bill failed — and a third was withdrawn after its sponsor discovered it was based on an Internet hoax. Sponsored by Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.), the first provision would have prevented any money for the reconstruction of Gaza to be diverted to Hamas — although since U.S. law already prevents any money going to the terrorist group, it would have been redundant. The second would have mandated a report from the secretary of state on whether U.S. aid to Egypt should be used to counter the smuggling of weapons across the Egypt-Gaza border. And the withdrawn amendment would have barred Palestinian refugees from settling in the U.S. — based on an false e-mail which claimed President Obama had signed an order to resettle hundreds of thousands of Palestinians here. Here’s the APN statement:
Americans for Peace Now (APN) today applauded the Senate for rejecting two irresponsible Middle East-related amendments to the FY09 Omnibus Appropriations bill (HR 1105). These amendments, introduced by Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ), gratuitously targeted humanitarian aid to Palestinians and the US-Egypt relationship. Both were rejected by a strong bipartisan vote.
In addition, APN expressed satisfaction that Senator Kyl withdrew a third amendment, seeking to make Palestinians from Gaza the only category of people in the world barred — based on their ethnicity and place of origin — from entry as refugees into the United States. Kyl did so after it became widely known that the amendment was based on a thoroughly debunked internet urban legend to the effect that the Obama Administration is planning to resettle large numbers of Gazans in the US.
Commenting on the votes, APN President and CEO Debra DeLee said, “Yesterday, a large number of Senators set politics aside and did the right thing with respect to the Middle East, rejecting amendments that were not only gratuitous but potentially counter-productive. These amendments were nothing more than political grandstanding at the expense of the U.S. foreign policy and national security in the region. We commend all Senators, from both parties, who rejected this political gamesmanship and spoke out or voted against these pointless initiatives. In particular, we applaud the seriousness and leadership shown by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), Appropriations Committee Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Ranking Member Judd Gregg (R-NH)."
The amendment targeting Palestinian aid (SA 631) was defeated by a vote of 39-56, while the amendment targeting Egypt (SA 630) was defeated by a vote of 34-61.
APN, America’s leading pro-Israel pro-peace organization, has in recent days weighed in with all Senate offices in opposition to these amendments. APN’s talking points opposing the amendments are copied below.
1. (Kyl) SA 629 would add binding law to the bill to the effect that “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be made available to resettle Palestinians from Gaza into the United States.”
This amendment is discriminatory and it is questionable whether this amendment is, at the most basic level, consistent with U.S. law. The amendment appears to be a reaction to an internet "urban legend" that has been circulating since January, to the effect that the Obama Administration is planning to resettle large numbers of Gazans in the US. This urban legend has been thoroughly debunked (earning the story its own page on the urban legends website, snopes.com — see:
This may be the first time in history that a US Senator has offered a legislative initiative based on a completely false and clearly debunked internet rumor — something that might be funny if the discriminatory subtext of the amendment was not so disturbing.
The introduction of this amendment sends a very troubling message to the world regarding the acceptability of this sort of discrimination in the American mainstream. Its consideration on the Senate floor will no doubt be carefully watched, both in the region and around the world. APN urges all members to categorically reject this outrageous amendment.
2. (Kyl) SA 630 would insert the following report requirement into the bill: “Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall submit to Congress a report on whether additional funds from Foreign Military Financing assistance provided annually to the Government of Egypt could be expended — (1) to improve efforts by the Government of Egypt to counter illicit smuggling, including arms smuggling, across the Egypt-Gaza border; and (2) to intercept weapons originating in other countries in the region and smuggled into Gaza through Egypt.”
This amendment is similar to language in the previous ForOps bill that “fenced off” $100 million of Egypt’s military aid. This fencing off language was not included in the Omnibus, apparently as part of an effort to “start fresh” with the new Administration. As such, this amendment is a clear shot at Egypt’s FMF program and at efforts to improve the US-Egypt relationship.
It should be emphasized that the amendment does NOT ask for an assessment of current counter-smuggling efforts, an appraisal of whether these efforts have been effective or sufficient, or an analysis of how these efforts could be or are being improved. Rather, it asks a question to which the answer is a foregone conclusion: could it enhance counter-smuggling efforts to spend more money on them?
Such a report would lay the groundwork for efforts in the next appropriations cycle to earmark a portion or portions of Egypt’s FMF for such purposes – something that would be a radical change in the US-Egypt relationship, that would represent a major Congressional attack on that relationship, and that would likely undermine ongoing efforts and cooperation related to this very issue.
APN strongly opposes this amendment and urges members to vote against it. The US has a vital strategic interest in keeping Egypt strong and in preserving strong bilateral US-Egypt relations. While there are legitimate concerns about Egypt’s efforts and record regarding smuggling across Egypt’s border with Gaza, this amendment is not only unhelpful but may indeed be counterproductive in terms of ongoing efforts to improve security on the Egypt-Gaza border, and in terms of the efforts of the new Obama Administration to build better cooperation on this issue with Egypt.
3. (Kyl) SA 631 would insert the following certification requirement into the bill: “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be made available to aid reconstruction efforts in Gaza until the Secretary of State certifies that none of such funds will be diverted to Hamas or entities controlled by Hamas.”
This amendment is redundant and irrational.
Redundant, because US law is absolutely clear that no funds can go to Hamas. Redundant, too, because existing language in this bill (General Provisions #7039 and #7040) include far-reaching oversight, vetting, reporting, and conditioning on any aid to the Palestinians or the Palestinian Authority.
Irrational, because the amendment requires the Secretary to certify something that cannot be certified – i.e., that something will NOT happen. It is reasonable to demand certification that all reasonable steps are being taken to ensure that no funds go to Hamas or other terrorist organizations. And this is, in fact, one of the many things required under current US law regarding aid to the Palestinians. It is neither reasonable nor rational to demand certification that a given outcome will not, under any circumstances, happen – unless the goal of the amendment is to come up with a certification requirement that simply cannot ever be met.
The US aid program to the Palestinians is arguably the most conditioned, restricted, and extensively monitored/vetted US aid program in the world. It is simply impossible to argue that this additional certification is somehow necessary to ensure that no taxpayer funds flow to Hamas. To the contrary, the only purpose this amendment serves is to force a pointless, politicized vote. APN urges Senators to reject this cynical manipulation and vote against this redundant and irrational amendment.