No Way Out

Congress Tells Palestinians To Give Up

11.30.12 8:45 PM ET

Before the vote to upgrade Palestine's status as the U.N. General Assembly had even taken place, Members of Congress were moving to punish the Palestinians for their non-violent act of defiance against Israel's occupation. A trio of Republican Senators—Mike Lee (UT), John Barrasso (WY), and James Inhofe (OK)—introduced legislation to cut funding for U.N. agencies that supported the Palestinian bid as well as the Palestinian Authority in half. Their amendment also directed the president to cut foreign aid to any country that supported the Palestinian bid by 20 percent.

After the vote, the reaction on Capitol Hill was swift and furious, with lawmakers fitfully denouncing the Palestinians for going to the United Nations for recognition just as the Israelis had 65 years earlier. But it may just have been bluster: JTA reported that AIPAC, with all its congressional sway, urged the "full review of America’s relations with the PLO, including closure of the PLO’s office in Washington." But calling for a "review" is a hedge; it does not make clear closing the PLO's office will happen by any stretch—nor that funding for the U.N. or the Palestinian Authority will be cut off. That didn't stop pro-Israel hawks from pushing for the possiblities.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who leads the charge against the Palestinians more vociferously than many right-wing Israelis, went beyond the above trio of Republican senators and called for cutting off funding to the Palestinian Authority itself—in addition to cutting off funding to the United Nations General Assembly. "The U.S. must stand with our ally Israel and offer no U.S. taxpayer dollars and no political support for the PLO. As other U.N. bodies will no doubt use General Assembly resolution as an excuse to grant membership to a non-existent Palestinian state, U.S. law is clear: U.N. agencies that grant membership to a Palestinian state lose their U.S. funding," she said in a statement. "If the Administration again seeks to gut U.S. law and keep funding those reckless U.N. agencies, Congress’s response must be simple: No."

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered another punitive measure which would cut foreign assistance to the Palestinians if they press charges against Israel in international courts. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called the vote "political theater" and a "harmful distraction from achieving true peace and stability between Israel and Palestine."

There were a few lawmakers who praised the Palestinian move. "Today's vote in the United Nations regarding a Palestinian state is a step towards a two-state solution that has been pursued for decades by millions of Palestinians and Israelis," said Rep. Andre Carson (D-KY) in a statement. Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) released a statement the day before the vote: "Opposing Fatah's non-violent efforts to achieve statehood sends the wrong message to the Palestinian people."

To the Palestinians, the reaction from most of Congress must surely be confusing. On the one hand, the U.S. perpetually sides with Israel during any armed confrontation with the Palestinians. "Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed," President Obama lectured the Palestinians during his famous Cairo address. But at the same time, the U.S. government, particularly the Congress, has been either silent or outright opposed to Palestinian nonviolent struggle. America's opposition to the U.N. bid was particularly galling to the rest of the world, but our government's perpetual muted reaction to Israel's violent crackdowns on non-violent protesters also embitters the Palestinian public.

By condemning violent confrontations with Israel and then also condemning non-violent and diplomatic means of resisting the occupation, Congress is essentially telling the Palestinians that they have no legitimate way to redress their grievences. They are telling them to give up. But the cheers that echoed throughout Ramallah, Bethlehem, and other Palestinian cities as their U.N. bid succeeded tell a different story—one that says Palestinians are not giving up any time soon, no matter what Congress says.