Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Two Sets of Congressional Rules: One for Israel, One for All Others

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Two Sets of Congressional Rules: One for Israel, One for All Others

Article excerpt

It is no longer news that Congress follows two sets of rules when it comes to foreign policy -- one for Israel and another for the rest of the world. Most recipients of US aid are expected to at least pay lip service to foreign aid regulations prohibiting human rights abuses, exploitation of labor, nuclear proliferation, and military aggression, but Israel violates them all without losing a penny of aid.

There's no mystery behind this special treatment. Jumping through hoops for campaign contributions is an old Washington tradition, and as Parker L. Payson wrote in the June issue of Washington Report, pro-Israel PACs have already given nearly $2 million to candidates for the 102nd Congress, most of whom are incumbents, and have another $4 million yet to be distributed.

New Precedents for Inconsistency

But recent congressional actions have set new precedents for inconsistency. On June 6, for instance, the House voted 390 to 24 to forbid easing trade restrictions on the Soviet Union until the Soviets end their economic blockade of Lithuania and enter negotiations aimed at securing independence for the Lithuanians. This is the same Congress that, hoping to scuttle US-PLO peace talks in Tunisia, voted to require the State Department to confirm every 120 days that the PLO has not engaged in terrorism. So legislators who fervently support negotiations to achieve Lithuanian independence are at the same time trying to undermine peaceful negotiations with Palestinians seeking independence, and lavishing funds on an Israeli occupation force that has killed more than 900 Palestinians since 1987.

When State Department official John H. Kelly informed Congress on May 24 that the PLO was living up to its commitments, his report was "immediately branded a whitewash by influential members of the House of Representatives," according to The New York Times. Leading the pack to discredit the report were Tom Lantos of California (who received $38,950 from pro-Israel PACs) and New York's Benjamin Gilman ($33,400).

After the abortive May 30 raid on Israel by 12 Palestinians in two speedboats, opponents of continued talks with the PLO were in full cry. B'nai B'rith and the Zionist Organization of America demanded an immediate end to the talks. Legislation calling for their suspension was promptly introduced by four Senators, Frank Lautenberg (DNJ), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Connie Mack (R-FL), and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), whose combined receipts from pro-Israel PACs totaling $376,572 have been documented from Federal Election Commission reports compiled by Washington Report editors.

In a June 9 article, New York Times correspondent Thomas Friedman cast light on the eagerness of pro-Israel forces to end US contacts with the PLO. He reported that this dialogue had enabled the United States to persuade Yasser Arafat to agree to negotiations on Shamir's limited peace plan. According to Friedman, "Some American officials believe that the main reason Mr. Shamir wants the dialogue severed is precisely because it will mean no Palestinians will come to the table and he will therefore not be under any pressure to negotiate with them." Israel's congressional supporters obviously see raising the issue of terrorism as the best means of carrying out Shamir's wishes.

The Bush administration is clearly dismayed by the prospect of ending the last hope of a negotiated peace, but given the restrictions imposed by Congress, Bush had no choice but to threaten to end negotiations with the PLO unless Arafat explicitly denounced the May 30 raid and expelled its leader, Abul Abbas, from the Palestine National Council. The PLO initially responded by condemning "any military action that targets civilians," but refused to be more specific. Arafat himself has pointed out that "The PNC has to decide on Abul Abbas, not me." PLO officials said off the record that Arafat could not appear to be allowing the US to dictate PLO internal affairs. …

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