The second session of the 113th Congress opened on 1/3/14 and closed almost a full year later, on 12/31/14. As in the first session, the Democratic Party controlled the Senate with 55 seats, including 2 Independents who caucused with them, and the Republican Party controlled the House, with 234 seats. Collectively, the House of Representatives and the Senate spent 270 days in session and considered 3,932 new measures. Eighty-seven of these were relevant to Palestinian affairs and the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, down from 124 in the first session (see Congressional Monitor in JPS 171 for more). The measures under discussion here also include 17 that were introduced during the first session but on which Congress took no action until the second session.
The number of measures dealing directly with the Palestinians rose almost threefold between the 2 sessions, from 8 to 27. This sharp increase reflected legislators’ efforts to counter moves toward Palestinian national reconciliation in the first half of 2014 and to condemn Hamas during Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip in 7–8/2014.
Overview of the Legislation
There are 2 broad categories of congressional measures: those that, if passed, carry the force of law (bills and joint resolutions) and are therefore considered binding; and nonbinding measures that state the views of Congress (simple and concurrent resolutions). While the bills and joint resolutions are more consequential because they have the potential to become law, the nonbinding measures are important indicators of congressional preferences and policy goals as they “urge,” “affirm,” “recognize,” or “support” people, events, and positions. Of the 104 measures under discussion, 71 were bills or joint resolutions, 10 of which passed into law, and the remaining 33 were simple or concurrent resolutions, of which 16 passed.
Not all of these measures were principally concerned with Palestinian affairs or the wider Arab-Israeli conflict. In 26 such cases, the issues of relevance to this Monitor were mentioned in the debates surrounding the measures or they featured prominently in amendments that were proposed but not considered or attached.
Of the 26 tangential measures, half, or 13, were authorizations or appropriations bills. Authorizations bills set annual funding goals and provide the legal authority for all U.S. government programs and agencies, while appropriations bills approve the funding and transfer of monies to those authorized bodies. The most relevant portions of the 6 appropriations and authorizations measures that passed in 2014 authorized national defense spending for the fiscal year (FY) 2015, including U.S.-Israel joint missile defense programs (*H.R. 3979 of 1/31/14); appropriated funds for FY 2014 and FY 2015, including military and economic support for Israel and the Palestinians (*H.R. 3547 of 11/20/13, *H. J. Res. 124 of 9/9/14, and *H.R. 83 of 1/3/13); provided supplemental funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system in the midst of Operation Protective Edge in 7–8/2014 (*H. J. Res. 76 of 10/3/13); and established a new oversight procedure regarding chemical weapons in Syria (*H.R. 4681 of 5/20/14).
The remaining 13 tangential measures were bills focused on a diverse array of issues: veterans’ benefits (S. 1982 of 2/3/14), religious freedom (S. 653 of 3/22/13), the Muslim Brotherhood (H.R. 5149 of 7/24/14), Russia’s foreign policy (H.R. 4278 of 3/21/14 and S. 2352 of 5/15/14), labor and employment (S. 2223 of 4/8/14 and S. 2569 of 7/8/14), energy savings (S. 2262 of 4/28/14), and gun ownership (S. 2363 of 6/20/14). There were also 4 tangential simple resolutions and each of them passed. Their pertinent provisions recognized Greece’s good relations with both Israel and Muslim nations (*S. Res. 377 of 3/10/14); cited the Holocaust Memorial Museum as a model for expanded efforts to prevent genocide and other atrocities (*S. Res. 413 of 4/7/14); condemned anti-Semitism in the Middle East (*H. Res. 707 of 7/31/14); and noted Iran, Syria, and Egypt as being among the most dangerous countries for journalists in 2013 (*S. Res. 447 of 5/15/14).
During its second session, the 113th Congress maintained its priorities regarding Palestinian affairs and the Arab-Israeli conflict; therefore, the 104 relevant measures it considered fall into the same 3 broad thematic categories as in previous sessions: (1) those directly or indirectly benefiting Israel; (2) those serving Israel’s interests by undermining its adversaries; (3) those buttressing Israel’s position in the Middle East by way of influencing U.S. regional policy, particularly in Egypt and Syria.
Almost half, or 46, of the 104 measures considered here included provisions benefiting Israel directly or indirectly, representing a greater proportion of the total than in the previous session. The 27 binding measures and 11 simple or concurrent resolutions can be further broken down into 4 subcategories to reflect legislative priorities.
- Maintaining or Increasing Military Support: Each of the 12 measures in this subcategory carried provisions authorizing or appropriating transfers of military aid to Israel, including 9 larger bills with numerous unrelated provisions and 3 that were introduced in direct response to the Israeli government’s request for supplementary support for the Iron Dome missile defense system. A total of 5 passed into law, including the supplemental Iron Dome appropriation (*H.R. 83 of 1/3/13, *H.R. 3547 of 11/20/13, *H.R. 3979 of 1/31/14, *H. J. Res. 124 of 9/9/14, and *H. J. Res. 76 of 10/3/13).
- Strengthening the U.S.-Israeli Alliance: All 7 measures in this subcategory were bills or joint resolutions to reinforce the U.S.-Israeli alliance. Four of them would have increased research cooperation (H.R. 3683 of 12/10/13, H.R. 4472 of 4/10/14, and H.R. 5666 of 9/18/14) or relaxed trade restrictions (H.R. 3961 of 1/29/14). The remaining 3 were different versions of a bill called U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, each of which comprised various alliance-strengthening measures. The act eventually passed into law as *S. 2673 of 7/28/14. No other measures in this category passed.
- Providing Ceremonial or Nonmilitary Support: There were 8 binding measures and 11 simple or concurrent resolutions considered that would have provided Israel ceremonial or other nonmilitary support; a total of 6 passed. In this subcategory, the measures can be further broken down as follows: 2 measures awarding Israeli politician Shimon Peres the Congressional Gold Medal (S. 1456 of 8/1/13 and *H.R. 2939 of 8/1/13); 5 measures relating to the 6/12/14 kidnapping of the 3 Israeli settler teenagers in the West Bank on 6/12/14 (H. Res. 642 of 6/25/14, H. Res. 665 of 7/10/14, S. 2577 of 7/9/14, S. 2579 of 7/9/14, and H.R. 5041 of 7/9/14); 2 measures to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (*S. Res. 504 of 7/16/14 and H.R. 3629 of 12/2/13); 1 bill would have funded new efforts to promote “dialogue” and “peaceful coexistence” between Israelis and Palestinians (H.R. 5795 of 12/4/14); and finally, 1 bill buttressing Israel’s position with regard to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC, H.R. 5649 of 9/18/14). There were also 8 simple or concurrent resolutions introduced during Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip in 7–8/2014 recognizing Israel’s right to self-defense.
- Commemorating Jewish and Israeli History: Of the 8 measures commemorating Jewish or Israeli history, 6 passed. The 2 bills in this subcategory would have denied Social Security benefits to individuals complicit in Nazi crimes (S. 2944 of 11/19/14 and *H.R. 5739 of 11/19/14). The remaining 6 nonbinding measures urged the Obama administration to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive housed in the U.S. (*S. Res. 333 of 1/16/14 and H. Res. 505 of 3/6/14); commended the Holocaust Memorial Museum (*S. Res. 413 of 4/7/14); recognized May as Jewish American Heritage Month (*S. Res. 458 of 5/22/14); and approved the use of government facilities for Holocaust commemoration ceremonies (*S. Con. Res. 36 of 5/22/14 and *H. Con. Res. 90 of 3/6/14).
Undermining Israel's Adversaries
More than half, or 55, of the 104 measures under discussion carried provisions that would, in some way, undermine Israel’s adversaries. Chief among these was Iran, which was the subject of provisions in 31 measures, followed by the Palestinians with 27. Additionally, there were 4 measures designed specifically to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, with this new legislative priority illustrating the movement’s growing impact in the U.S. Overall, 9 measures from this category passed.
Generally speaking, most of the 31 measures targeting Iran—21 bills and 10 simple and concurrent resolutions—sought to influence or undermine the international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. In almost all cases, Israel’s security was offered as justification. During the second session of the 113th Congress, U.S. legislators sought to manipulate sanctions relief to Iran, a high-stakes issue in the talks underway since 1/2014 with the P5+1 (the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). Congress also kept up its condemnations of Iran’s human rights and diplomatic record.
- Influencing Diplomacy: The 21 measures—18 bills and 3 simple and concurrent resolutions—in this subcategory were efforts to assert congressional authority over the talks by: altering the sanctions regime credited with bringing Iran to the negotiations table; expressing congressional preferences on the U.S. negotiating positions; establishing procedures to give Congress a direct oversight role; combinations of the above. Neither of the 2 measures that garnered the most momentum passed (S. 1881 of 12/19/13 and S. 2650 of 7/23/14), in part due to President Obama’s repeated promise to veto any such legislation. These measures did, however, recapitulate the legislature’s basic position in its ongoing struggle with the White House, which carried over from the first session of 113th Congress (See Quarterly Update in JPS 171–75 for more). In total, 2 of the bills in this subcategory passed; they established requirements for the administration to report to Congress on Iran’s nuclear program, expressed the sense of Congress on relevant U.S. policies, and authorized certain Defense Dept. procedures in order to prepare for a possible military conflict with Iran (*H.R. 83 of 1/3/13 and *H.R. 3979 of 1/31/14).
- Human Rights and Diplomacy: The 10 measures—4 bills and 6 simple resolutions—focused on Iran’s human rights record and its conduct in foreign affairs. With respect to human rights, 2 bills called for appropriating funds to State Dept. programs promoting human rights and democracy (S. 2585 of 7/10/14 and S. 2499 of 6/19/14); 2 resolutions broadly condemned the Iranian government (H. Res. 109 of 3/12/13 and *H. Res. 754 of 11/14/14); 2 called for the release of a high-profile U.S. political prisoner (H. Res. 435 of 12/10/13 and *S. Res. 312 of 12/9/13); and 1 resolution recognized Iran as a dangerous country for journalists (*S. Res. 447 of 5/15/14). In terms of diplomacy, 1 resolution described Iran as a cause of regional instability (*H. Res. 657 of 7/8/14) and 2 bills introduced in response to the nomination of Iran’s new ambassador to the UN set forth new rules regulating U.S. visas to UN reps. (*S. 2195 of 4/1/14 and H.R. 4357 of 4/1/14). In total, 4 of the simple resolutions and 1 of the bills passed.
The U.S. has a contradictory relationship with the Palestinians, providing hundreds of millions of dollars in annual economic and security support to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and programs benefiting Palestinian civil society while opposing any Palestinian efforts to deviate from the U.S. vision for a 2-state solution. During the period under review, 27 measures were considered with provisions along these lines—17 bills or joint resolutions and 10 simple or concurrent resolutions.
- Restricting Aid: Over half, or 17, of the total included provisions that called for, created, or maintained restrictions on aid either in response to Palestinian political developments or to reflect long-standing congressional priorities. Palestinian national reconciliation, in particular, was the focus of provisions in 10 of these measures, with many legislators opposing the Obama administration’s decision to maintain aid to the PA despite its formation of a unity government with Hamas. The remaining 7 measures mandated restrictions to curtail what was described as Palestinian incitement and the PA’s policy of paying salaries to Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. These measures passed alongside the annual restrictions and aid provisions in the omnibus appropriations bill for 2015 (*H. R. 83 of 1/3/13). Of the remaining 2 measures that passed, one extended FY 2014’s restrictions on aid for an additional 3 months (*H. J. Res. 124 of 9/9/14) and the other had a relevant amendment proposed to it, which was not attached (S.A. 4018 on *H.R. 3979 of 1/31/14).
- Condemning Hamas: From a total of 8 simple or concurrent resolutions recognizing Israel’s right to self-defense during its assault on the Gaza Strip that also condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks and/or its alleged use of civilians as human shields, 3 passed. But a bill on the Muslim Brotherhood reaffirming Hamas’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization (H.R. 5194 of 7/24/14) did not.
There was 1 other bill relevant to the Palestinians introduced during this session. Falling outside any of the above subcategories, it would have radically altered the U.S. stance on the 2-state solution. The bill, which did not pass, called for a “plan for peace” comprising, inter alia, Israel’s annexation of the West Bank and Gaza (H.R. 5734 of 11/18/14).
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement
As noted above, BDS drew Congress’s increasing attention this session, particularly after the American Studies Association voted in favor of boycott in 12/2013 (see JPS 171). There were 4 measures introduced with the explicit goal of countering the movement’s growing influence by: denying participating higher education institutions federal funding (H.R. 4009 of 2/6/14); blocking U.S. funds to international organizations that boycott Israeli settlements (H.R. 4519 of 4/19/14 and H.R. 4581 of 5/6/14); and, in effect, barring government contractors from joining the movement (H.R. 5727 of 11/18/14). None of the measures passed. (See Special Document File in JPS 171 for more on the legislative backlash against the BDS movement.)
Buttressing Israel via U.S. Regional Policy
With the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) emerging as a principal actor in the Syrian conflict, and the Obama administration’s decision to step up U.S. involvement in the crisis, Congress maintained its own efforts to manage the U.S. response in Syria. Nevertheless, the 24 measures in this category—17 bills or joint resolutions and 7 simple or concurrent resolutions— represented a drop from the previous year’s 33.
By far the most significant debate of the session was over the nature of U.S. military involvement; 10 measures dealt with this question, including 3 that authorized military support for “vetted” Syrian rebel groups (*H. J. Res. 124 of 9/9/14, *H.R. 3979 of 1/31/14, and *H.R. 83 of 1/3/13). Of the total: 2 resolutions, neither of which passed, called for a Syrian war crimes tribunal; 7 measures shaped the U.S. humanitarian response but only 1 passed (*S. Res. 384 of 3/13/14); 5 bills carried provisions to curb Russian influence in the conflict, with 3 passing (*H.R. 83 of 1/3/13, *H.R. 3547 of 11/20/13, and *H.R. 3979 of 1/31/14); 2 bills would have established congressional oversight procedures, with only 1 passing (*H.R. 4681 of 5/20/14); 1 resolution passed condemning “mass atrocities” in Syria and elsewhere (*S. Res. 413 of 4/7/14); and 1 resolution passed recognizing Syria as among the most dangerous countries for journalists in 2013 (*S. Res. 447 of 5/15/14).
Following the military overthrow of Pres. Mohamed Morsi in 7/2013 and Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s accession to the presidency in June 2014, the U.S. government’s relationship with Egypt was temporarily guarded. While U.S. military support and cooperation with Egypt continued to be seen as essential to regional stability and a guarantor of Egypt’s adherence to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, the U.S. expressed growing concern with the country’s human rights situation and its record on democracy. Of the 8 measures in this category, 3 bills passed from a total of 5 that authorized military and economic support according to specific disbursal mechanisms linked to human rights and democracy-related benchmarks (*H. J. Res. 124 of 9/9/14, *H.R. 3547 of 11/20/13, and *H.R. 83 of 1/3/13). The remaining 2 bills, which did not pass, called for suspending all aid to Egypt (S. 2477 of 6/17/14) and for the U.S. not to recognize the 6/2013 convictions described as “politically motivated” of 43 nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers by the Cairo Criminal Court, (S. 2649 of 7/23/14). The final measure, a simple resolution that passed, recognized Egypt as a dangerous country for journalists in 2013 (*S. Res. 447 of 5/15/14).