Posted on February 05, 2014 in Countdown

Three Strikes for AIPAC

Talk of the demise of what is easily rated as one of Washington’s most prominent lobby groups is nothing new and not surprisingly untrue. However, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has swung and missed on three issues they have been publicly pushing for over the past year. First, U.S. public opposition and Obama’s reversal of military involvement in Syria succeeded in trumping AIPAC’s calls for U.S. missile strikes. Second, both AIPAC’s attempts (H.R. 938 and S.462) in lobbying lawmakers to include Israel into the visa-waiver program are poised to fail due to the senseless and unconstitutional provisions aimed to codify discriminatory Israeli policies towards U.S. citizens into law. Third, President Obama’s steadfast stance on favoring diplomacy over indiscretion and threatening to exercise his veto power against any new sanctions on Iran has jeopardized AIPAC’s call for further isolating Iran. Lack of development on these three issues show that despite its usual track record of getting what it wants, even AIPAC can strike out. Still more innings to play, though.

GOP revises stance on immigration reform, compromise lingers

Last summer, the Senate passed the bipartisan “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” as a means to fix the country’s longstanding issues on immigration reform. Last week, President Obama put pressure on Congress to come to an agreement on legislation that addresses immigration reform. Just a few days ago, Congressional Republicans released a set of principles on immigration reform. The only thing missing from this equation is the actual piece of paper with all necessary signatures (the bill). What is the likelihood of that surfacing in 2014? Thus far, the outlook is grim. Those who view immigration reform as a back-burner issue might be in luck this year, but to those with relatives and loved ones who linger in limbo while some policymakers embrace inaction – the agony and wait will most likely continue.

Kerry can’t catch a break

More bad news for Secretary Kerry. After being called “messianic” late last month, Israeli leaders and media critics are now blasting Kerry for supposedly threatening boycotts from foreign governments against Israel if peace talks with the Palestinians fail. While Kerry’s statements were merely positing international reaction if negotiations collapsed, his words were misconstrued and elicited a rather silly response from some Israeli leaders. On Facebook, Israel’s economy minister Naftali Bennett accused Kerry of being a “trumpet” by promoting “anti-Semitic boycott efforts” and Israeli parliamentarian Tzipi Hotovely, who we’re pretty sure has used similar talking points to Kerry’s, said “Kerry’s unprecedented threats of a boycott are an attempt to terrorize Israel.” National Security Advisor Susan Rice came to Kerry’s defense, posting a series of tweets in response to the critics. These petty arguments playing out on social media are distractions from the real on-the-ground efforts needed to finally bring lasting peace in the region. However, when we see reports from the Israeli press paying credence to a supposed leaked U.S. proposal to resettle Palestinian refugees in the Negev desert, we actually start to prefer silly “he said, she said” internet squabbles. The fact is, as AAI President Jim Zogby’s new book points out, Israelis and Palestinians are further away from a two-state solution than they were 20 years ago, so there is real work to be done. We are pleased peace talks are continuing, but hope these trivial disruptions are not all that they yield.

Geneva II: Will there be round three?

We’re used to talking about partisan rifts, but now, new reports are revealing potential rifts between Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama White House over the United States’ approach to the crisis in Syria. According to Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham - two supporters of a more active U.S. involvement in Syria - Kerry acknowledged (in a private meeting of senators) that “the chemical weapons [plan] is being slow rolled, the Russians continue to supply arms, we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy.” Kerry’s spokesperson, Jen Psaki, sought to clarify some of the reports, saying that it was “a case of members projecting what they want to hear and not stating the accurate facts of what was discussed,” and that “at no point during the meeting did Secretary Kerry raise lethal assistance for the opposition.” Does this signal a potential shift in policy given the lack of progress from the Geneva II talks? Don’t count on it. White House press secretary Jay Carney responded to the accusations, saying “The policy that we have in place is the policy that we’re pursuing” and a “negotiated political settlement” was the only solution to the ongoing crisis. No matter where you stand on the issue, the recent confusion and political clashes shows that a new approach and clearly outlined U.S. strategy on Syria is needed – especially after last week’s dismal talks.

Two tickets to...

The National Journal reported that Congress and their aides took more “free” international trips in 2013 than the past five years, amounting to a total cost of almost $6 million. So who’s footing the bill? While the Abramoff reforms prevent lobbyists and their employers from directly financing Congressional travel, The National Journal noted that many of the private interests paying for the travel are tied closely to lobbying groups in Washington. One example: the American Israel Education Foundation, which tops the spending list (around $1.7 million), shares an address with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Israel is the top travel destination, attracting more than one-third of the total expenses in 2013. While we’re sure their AIPAC guides gave members of Congress and their staff a wholesome, neutral trip to the region where they were able to witness the effects of the occupation on Palestinian farmers, may we also suggest they take trips to the other neighboring countries that also demand incredible attention and could use a visit – Egypt? Tunisia, anyone?

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