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US Senate doesn't pass penalties for Palestinians
By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
05/12/2012
Ammendment that would have penalized Palestinians if they used new UN status to seek int'l charges against Israel.
 
WASHINGTON – None of the amendments penalizing the Palestinians for last week’s UN bid were included in the Senate defense bill passed Monday night.

Three separate amendments had been filed, with penalties ranging from shuttering the PLO’s DC office to cutting US aid to the Palestinians and reducing assistance to the UN, but none were voted on as the Senate wrapped up deliberations on the defense authorization bill.

Opponents of the amendments see the omission as a major victory.

“We’re delighted that the Senate chose not to include [them],” said Dylan Williams, director of government affairs for J Street. “We believe any of the proposals to punish the Palestinians would severely damage the prospects of negotiations toward a two-state solution.”

J Street, which circulated a letter opposing the amendments, prompted nearly 15,000 emails to members of Congress against the action and nearly 1,000 phone calls.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee sent out a statement as the amendments were being considered saying that “Congress has frequently warned the PLO that there would be consequences for its relationship with the United States” to unilateral action at the UN.

“AIPAC applauds this congressional leadership and urges a full review of America’s relations with the PLO, including closure of the PLO’s office in Washington,” the statement read.

One of the amendments, proposed by senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and considered the most likely to be adopted, would close the PLO mission if the Palestinians didn’t conduct meaningful negotiations with Israel and would cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if it pressed a case against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

AIPAC wouldn’t comment for this story.

But several other supporters of the amendments are playing down the fact that the they weren’t included in Monday’s bill.

One Senate aide chalked the result up to being merely a product of “Senate procedure,” as the body tried to cope with an onslaught of amendments to the defense bill, seen as one of the pieces of legislation most likely to reach the president’s desk in the near future.

A pro-Israel Capitol Hill source said there was enough opposition to rule out “unanimous consent” passage of the amendments – which was being used to speedily approve some of the many other amendments – but that the opposition wasn’t significant enough to end hopes of the amendment passing as part of a different bill.

“No one should read anything into the failure of the amendments to be adopted in terms of the Senate’s attitude towards the Palestinian action at the UN,” he said.

But Dylan argued that the “level of discomfort” by those who didn’t back it among the senior Senate leadership was clearly at a significant level since the amendment didn’t pass.

Still, advocates said they would press ahead.

“Senator Graham will continue to explore opportunities for passing the legislation,” said Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop.

Similar actions against the Palestinians could also be proposed in the US House of Representatives, which might try to add it to the defense bill when the two houses negotiate over the language or on separate legislation.

“We have no doubt that this fight is not over,” Williams said. “We will be fighting aggressively should it come up again.”
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