On a visit to Israel, Graham told Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the new Senate would also act, in January, to pass bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation long opposed by the Obama administration.
During a joint press conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu identified the imminent attempt to get the Security Council to pass a resolution setting a deadline for Palestinian statehood, and Iran’s nuclear program, as two major challenges.
Graham assured Israel of strong support from the U.S. Congress which, he said, “has your back in a very bipartisan way.”
“The Republican Party now runs the House and the Senate, and things will be a bit different. But one thing will be constant: There will be bipartisan support” for Israel, on both the Palestinian and Iran issues.
“Any effort by the French, the Jordanians or anyone to avoid direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians over the peace process, anyone who tries to take this [resolution] to the U.N. Security Council, there will be a violent backlash by the Congress that could include suspending funding to the United Nations,” Graham said.
American taxpayers account for billions of dollars in funding for the world body each year, including 22 percent of the regular budget, 27 percent of the peacekeeping budget, and substantial “voluntary” contributions to assorted U.N. agencies.
In the most recent year for which full details were subject to a congressional reporting requirement, U.N.-bound money channeled through multiple U.S. government agencies in fiscal year 2010 totaled $7.69 billion.
Jordan, a temporary UNSC member, has introduced on behalf of Arab states a text that sets 2016 as the final date for a full Israeli withdrawal from territory claimed by the Palestinians. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat predicts a vote as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.
France, meanwhile, has been working on an alternative text that softens the language somewhat in the hopes of persuading the U.S. not to veto the initiative.
Amid concerns that the administration may not exercise that veto, Graham recalled that President Obama had said in 2011 that the U.N. was not the correct venue for pushing the “two-state solution” ahead.
At the time, after P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas first launched his bid for U.N. recognition in an attempt to bypass negotiations, the U.S. threatened to veto any resolution put before the UNSC.
Abbas then turned to the U.N. General Assembly, which in late 2012 voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member state.”
At U.S. urging Abbas agreed to suspend the quest for further U.N. recognition while negotiations continued. But the failure last April of a nine-month push by Secretary of State John Kerry prompted the P.A. to look again to the world body.
“I agree with what President Obama said in 2011,” Graham said.
On Sunday, Netanyahu told his cabinet that the attempt to use the U.N. to force the creation of a Palestinian state would establish a “second Hamastan,” a reference to the fact the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization already controls the Gaza Strip.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions also featured in the Netanyahu-Graham meeting, and the senator assured Israel that Congress was on track to increase pressure on Tehran.
“In January of next year, there will be a vote on the Kirk-Menendez bill – bipartisan sanction legislation that says, if Iran walks away from the table, sanctions will be re-imposed; if Iran cheats regarding any deal that we enter [in]to [with] the Iranians, sanctions will be re-imposed.”
“It is important to let the Iranians know that from an American point of view, sanctions are alive and well,” he added.
The legislation was co-authored by outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) a year ago, and aimed at prodding the Iranians towards a nuclear agreement by holding the threat of tougher sanctions over their heads.
Even though the measures would only be imposed if Iran violated any deal or abandoned the talks, the administration strongly opposed the bill, said it would show bad faith in the talks, and threatened to veto it.A number of senior Republican senators, and some Democrats, want to see the legislation debated and voted on in the 114th Congress.
Graham also pointed to another legislative initiative, the Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act, which would prevent the administration from implementing any deal reached between Iran and the so-called P5+1 negotiating group, without legislative approval.
The bill was introduced last July by Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who will succeed Menendez as chairman in January.
“If there’s a deal between the P5+1 regarding the Iranian nuclear program, it must come to the Congress for our approval before sanctions can be lifted permanently, as a check and balance against a bad deal,” Graham said in Jerusalem.