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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Congress reining Obama in on Israel?

Has Congress had enough of President Obama browbeating Israel? Well, maybe. There are two signs that maybe Congress has had enough.

Two weeks ago, I reported that two Senators - Even Bayh (D-Ind) and James Risch (R-Idaho) were circulating a letter among their Senate colleagues that urges President Obama to pressure the Arab countries to make peace overtures to Israel. As of last week, 44 Senators had signed on. Now, The Hill reports that a whopping 71 Senators have signed on to the Bayh-Risch letter.
Including signatures by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the letter essentially states that Israel’s efforts toward peace are not being met with equal efforts by Arab states. A similar, bipartisan letter was sent by 226 House members last week to Saudi Arabia, calling on that country’s leaders to deepen their commitment to peace with Israel.

The letter essentially suggests that Obama’s remarks in Cairo, along with recent statements by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are not being heeded by Arab nations.

“We applaud these comments and agree with you and Secretary Clinton that Arab states must do more to end their isolation of Israel,” the senators wrote Obama.
The letter also praises Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has come under pressure from the Obama administration:
The Bayh-Risch letter also defends Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the leader has endorsed the idea of a so-called “two-state solution” and wants to resume peace talks, and that Israeli officials have been working to improve life in Palestinian territories.

“These actions have demonstrated that Israel is willing to back up its words with concrete actions, even in the face of continuing threats to its security,” the letter reads. “We encourage Arab leaders to take similar tangible steps to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process.”
The letter's full text may be found here.

At Contentions, David Hazony argues that the letter, together with Monday's rebuke of President Obama's position on Jerusalem by House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, suggests that Congress is trying to rein in President Obama's excess pressure on Israel.
Combining this letter with the Hoyer interview, we get the sense that congressional leaders have decided that the change in U.S. policy on Israel has gone far enough.
Well, maybe. But the real question is what (if anything) Congress can do about it even if it chooses to do something. Foreign affairs are pretty much the Executive branch's exclusive bailiwick in the United States. Until and unless the White House comes to Congress with legislation that needs Congressional approval (for example, to appropriate money), it seems to me that there is not a whole lot Congress can do to relieve the pressure on Israel.


At 11:02 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The President can't afford to overlook dissent from his own party. And pressure on Israel has already gone well past the point of diminishing returns. There is not a lot more the US can do to budge Israel.


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