Posted on June 23, 1997 in Washington Watch

Pro-Israeli bulldozers rolled through the U.S. Congress on June 10th and once again made rubble of integrity and intelligence.

In a blatant display of gratuitous power, Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution to commemorate the “30th Anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem”. On one level the resolution was unnecessary. It was also quite dangerous.

As a nonbinding resolution, this Congressional action added nothing new to U.S. policy. It was, for the most part, a reminder of the “1995 Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act” in which Congress mandated that the United States: declare Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel; move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; and appropriate $100 Million to build the embassy.

That 1995 Act passed only after the Administration succeeded in having it amended to include a waiver provision that allowed the President to delay implementation of the act on “national security grounds.”

Once the waiver was in place, the Congresspeople who knew the Act was wrong felt free to vote for it, knowing that their irresponsible behavior would be covered by the President’s postponements. The lopsided 1995 vote was, therefore, to some extent, based on crass opportunism.

Much the same happened with this year’s resolution. Many members described the pressure campaign mounted by the pro-Israel lobby and some of their colleagues as extraordinarily intense—with repeated visits by pro-Israeli groups and implied threats if they voted against the bill.

In the end, many Congresspeople who knew that the resolution was bad policy submitted to the pressure to vote for it thinking that their votes would have no consequences. Some even likened their votes to a bone thrown at a barking dog.

The final vote, 406-17, was not a measure of pro-Israel conviction but a mixture of opportunism, cowardice, and the ability of a well-financed, powerful group to intimidate and win.

The victory provided the lobby and the hardline group in Congress that supports them another opportunity to boast of their dominance. They went further, passing a resolution denouncing the Palestinian National Authority for killing Arabs who sell land to Israelis.

The passage of this resolution was accompanied by a string of harsh anti-Palestinian speeches. The PNA was called “repugnant”, and Speaker Newt Gingrich even termed Palestinian behavior “Nazi-like”. Only a few brave Congressmen raised their voices against the resolution calling it “one-sided” and “divisive”.

Emboldened by these victories and displays of power, the pro-Israel leadership in the House now has its eyes set on doing real damage by either stopping U.S. aid to the Palestinians or placing even further insulting conditions on that aid.

The Congressional leaders in this effort for the most part never supported the peace process or aid to the Palestinians in the first place. While they had some difficulty in stopping aid in the years after Oslo, they now see an opportune moment to strike a new blow at the Palestinian Authority.

Through all of this one-sided debate in Congress, Arab Americans and allies of a balanced U.S. role have acted without a strong supportive voice from the Administration. Administration spokespersons have issued statements critical of the Jerusalem vote and have restated U.S. support for the PA and the U.S. aid program, but they have not fought vigorously for these positions on the Hill.

Some have compared the subdued and passive Administration response to these Congressional actions with the subdued U.S. role in the peace negotiations. There is growing criticism of what is being described as the failure of the Administration to act more decisively during this current crisis. Criticisms once heard only from Arabs and Arab Americans are now coming from some liberal Jewish groups, respected foreign policy analysts, and even the Council on Foreign Relations.

But while this criticism grows in the U.S., it fell to the young people of Hebron and Gaza to issue the most dramatic rebuke to the foolishness of Congress and the passivity of the Administration. Their direct challenge to the outrageous existence they have been condemned to endure has been a costly one. It has, however, already forced some members of Congress to repudiate their votes for the Jerusalem resolution.

Certainly this price is too great.

Congress can and must be challenged forcefully and politically. Left unchecked, the power of the pro-Israel forces will continue to force passage of damaging and irresponsible resolutions that will destroy both the peace process and human lives. It should not fall on the children of the occupied territories alone to send a wake-up call to the Congress.

Arabs and Arab Americans have responsibilities to act. A joint strategy can and should be developed to challenge the resolutions of Congress, to save lives and the possibility of peace. This is a struggle that can be won. The power of the hardline lobby is largely due to the fact that they have been left uncontested. There is, however, growing sentiment in the United States for a balanced pro-peace Middle East policy, and this includes significant segments of the American Jewish community. But this sentiment must be organized and focussed on Congress.

Arabs must do their part to make clear to Congress and the U.S. public that irresponsible resolutions and legislation have damaging consequences—to U.S. standing and interests in the Middle East, to U.S. allies and to the search for peace. This message must be sent.

For our part, Arab Americans must organize public sentiment and directly press Congress in a concerted campaign. Some members of Congress who consistently act against peace must be challenged directly. Embarrassing some members of Congress in their districts and actually contributing to their defeat in elections may be the best way to send the message that the damage done by irresponsible behavior must be stopped.

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