Israeli TV report on new US anti-incitement bill misses the mark

Channel 2 predicts passage of a bill conditioning US funding to Palestinians on a drop in incitement. Er, which bill is that, exactly?

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Edward Royce with Secretary of State John Kerry. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Edward Royce with Secretary of State John Kerry. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON — Viewers of Channel 2 may have concluded Friday’s edition confident that the US Congress is on the brink of approving “by a large majority” a new law that will make American funding to the Palestinian Authority dependent on a reduction – or ideally, cessation – of incitement against Israel. In Washington, however, the report was received with some confusion. Of the two laws seeking to curb Palestinian incitement against Israel, one passed as part of the omnibus foreign spending bill in January, while the second, introduced in January, has not even had its first committee hearing yet.

According to the TV report, the bill ostensibly conditioning hundreds of millions of US aid to the PA on a drastic reduction in anti-Israel incitement has passed the House Appropriations Committee, and is en route to the floor, where it is expected to pass “with a large majority.” No such bill, however, is at that stage of the legislative process.

As part of the Channel 2 report, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Friday that he “met this week with the head and members of the Appropriations Committee” and that he “thanked them for the law which is intended to put an end to incitement against Israel in the PA — a novel legal initiative that conditions hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid to the Palestinians on the ending, or at least the drastic reduction, of incitement.”

There are two bills which could fit the bill for Steinitz’s description.

The first, known as “H.R. 3868: Palestinian Peace Promotion and Anti-Incitement Act,” was sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), and introduced and referred to committee on January 14. That bill – like the one in the report – seeks to link millions of dollars in assistance to the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to stop incitement.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, the bill H.R. 3868 “expresses the sense of Congress that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has not lived up to its agreements with Israel to end incitement and should do more to prepare the Palestinian people for peace with Israel.”

The bill specifically seeks to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to make funds available for the Palestinian Authority “after a determination by the President that the PA no longer engages in incitement against the United States or Israel, and is engaged in activities aimed at promoting peace with the Jewish State of Israel.”

Royce’s bill seems to fit the description, except that it was not referred to the Appropriations Committee, and it has not passed out of committee for a floor vote yet.

Perhaps the better candidate for the bill referred to on Channel 2 is HR 3547, also known as the FY 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act – the federal budget for 2014 which was signed into law by President Barack Obama after passing both houses of Congress.

In Section 7040, which limits assistance for the PA, there is the provision that the president may authorize a waiver to the current ban on assistance. The president may certify in writing to the speaker of the House of Representatives, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the Committees on Appropriations that waiving such prohibition is important to the national security interests of the United States. Yet, the law restricts the period of time that the waiver may be granted.

It crucially also stipulates that if the president exercises the waiver authority, the secretary of state must certify and report to the Committees on Appropriations that “financing and all financing mechanisms flow through this account, no parallel financing mechanisms exist outside of the Palestinian Authority treasury account, and there is a single comprehensive civil service roster and payroll, and the Palestinian Authority is acting to counter incitement of violence against Israelis and is supporting activities aimed at promoting peace, coexistence, and security cooperation with Israel.”

This bill also did not go directly through the Appropriations Committee, but rather was referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, as it started its life not as an omnibus budget bill, but as the Space Launch Liability Indemnification Extension Act

If this is the right bill, then Channel 2’s optimism was well-founded — in retrospect. The legislation was voted into law as part of a hard-brokered budget deal which was a must-pass for the administration to avoid a government shutdown.

Whether delegates realized that among the over 600 pages they were striking a congressional blow against incitement is uncertain.

Legislative advisers and lobbyists reached after the Channel 2 report was broadcast also said that they were unaware of any legislation that fit the report’s description.

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