Throughout the two years that the 109th Congress was in session—from 3 January 2005 to 3 January 2007—Republicans controlled both the Senate and the House of Representatives; the Democratic majority elected to both chambers in the November 2006 elections was not sworn in until the opening of the 110th Congress in January 2007.
Several landmark events in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories occurred during the two-year period under review. As the 109th Congress opened in January 2005, Mahmud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), succeeding Yasir Arafat, who had died in November 2004. A year later, coinciding with the opening of the second session of the 109th Congress, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke and fell into a coma, removing him from public life; Ehud Olmert, who immediately assumed control, was formally elected prime minister in March 2006. Meanwhile, Hamas, which had chalked up victories throughout municipal elections in Gaza and the West Bank in the second half of 2005, unexpectedly won the Palestinian parliamentary elections on 25 January 2006, ending Fatah’s control of the PA and its unquestioned 40- year dominance of the Palestinian national movement. The year also saw Israel’s devastating summer war on Lebanon and growing U.S.-Israeli concerns over Iran. Many of these events are referenced in the congressional initiatives. Sharon’s passage from the scene was marked by a tribute to the Israeli Arab nurse who treated him at Hadassah hospital in a House speech on 16 July 2006. Reflecting events on the ground more generally, there was a marked upsurge in anti-PA initiatives following the formation of the Hamas government in March 2006, though it should be noted that efforts to block aid to the PA preceded this event by eleven months: On 8 March 2005, when Abbas and Fatah were still firmly in control, the House introduced a bill calling for the prohibition of U.S. aid to the PA and of programs in the territories unless, inter alia, there was an “absence of violence” there. Immediately following the Hamas electoral victory, the Palestinian AntiTerrorism Act (PATA; see excerpts in Doc. D3 in JPS 143) was introduced (1 February 2006 in the House; 6 March 2006 in the Senate), which required, among other things, that PA territory be designated a “terrorist sanctuary” unless Hamas adhered to nine conditions (see PATA 3/6/06).
Overall, however, one is struck by a certain disconnect between specific events on the ground and the concerns of Congress, with large numbers of initiatives taken up with such items as commemorating Israeli anniversaries, intervening on Israel’s behalf with various non-U.S. bodies (e.g., United Nations, NATO, International Committee of the Red Cross, Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development), supporting Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and promoting Holocaust awareness.