As the United Nations considers the Palestinian referendum for statehood, possibly as early as Friday, both parties are vying for an approval from the UN Security Council and for a U.S. vote. Both Israel and Palestine have a long history of lobbying the U.S. and in the past year alone, the Palestinian Liberation Organization spent over one million on public relations. During the same time, Israel spent over $13 million on lobbying, public relations and related costs. Both interests contacted important policy makers and set up a vast PR campaign.
In the last few months as the issues of statehood began to be more widely discussed and in the run up to the General Assembly convening in New York this week, both parties have upped their lobbying portfolio, hiring two lobby shops each.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization has a long history of lobbying and has recently decided to supplement its efforts by expanding their lobbying contracts. The PLO delegation to the United States hired Bell Pottinger on August 10 for a monthly fee of $30,000, according to the contract.
Past lobbying disclosures filed with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agent Registrant Act (FARA) show that the Palestine Liberation Organization contacted top decision makers, media and academia, and list meetings with up and coming policy leaders. The PLO met with 13 members of congress in 2010 as well as key military contacts such as Dan Shapiro of the National Security Council, and General James Mattis Commander, U.S. Central Command. The PLO is the only Palestinian political outfit that is recognized by the UN.
According to the General Delegation of the PLO, in their advocacy, they “spend large amounts of time addressing misinformation on the Hill.”
The Palestinian American Chamber of Commerce (PACC) is the newest Palestinian client to register under FARA in September. PACC contracted with Qorvis Communications for public relations support.
One of the new Israeli contracts is with World Likud, an organization that pursues international grassroots organizing in support of Israel. World Likud could play an important part in the UN recognition debate with their very strong assertion that, “A Palestinian State within existing Israeli territory is not feasible.” This is clearly at odds with Palestinian statehood recognition. World Likud hired Rubenstein Public Relations in June of this year.
The World Zionist Organization also registers with FARA and engages in various education and exchange programs to encourage Jewish immigration and culture. Their constitution states that Israel is a “Jewish, Zionist and democratic state,” and they believe that, “settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism.” This aspect is important especially after conflicts over Israeli settlements disintegrated last year’s peace talks.
Another new Israeli interest is, Erel Margalit, a politician with the Labor Party who began a contract in August to raise money for his candidacy. Israelis elect a parliament through a proportional representation system, so for Margalit to be elected, he needs to make it on to the list of Israeli Labor Party primary candidates and then the party would need to win seats in the election.
Qorvis Communications is a large public relations firm that has represented both Israeli and Palestinian interests in the past. Military hardware manufacturer Plasan Sasa Ltd. had a contract with PR firm Qorvis Communications from 2009 to March 2011 and now Qorvis represents the PACC.
For more information on the foreign lobbying go to Sunlight Foundation’s Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker which digitizes information that representatives of foreign governments, political parties and government-controlled entities must disclose to the DOJ.
The Israeli Embassy also contracts with Arnold & Porter LLP for advice on taxation, trade and "holocaust-era assets litigation." The State of Israel also has Sidley Austin LLP on its payroll.
Israeli and Palestinian interests have an extensive history of lobbying the U.S. since FARA was established in the late 1930s. The Jewish Agency for Palestine first shows up on FARA records in 1942 while the Israeli government started lobbying the year it was established, 1948.
The Arab Higher Committee for Palestine Refugees first registered in 1955 and the Palestinian Liberation Organization registered in 1978.
American groups that lobby in support of Israel or Palestine are not covered by FARA regulations. In the last eleven years, 850 lobbying documents have mentioned “Israel” as a lobbying issue, according to a quick search of federal lobbying disclosure records with the Senate Office of Public Records.
At the UN General Assembly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is asking for full membership in the UN and U.S.’s stance on Palestinian statehood in the UN could make or break the proposal as the U.S. can veto the proposition in the Security Council.
So far, it seems doubtful that U.S. will support a bid for Palestinian statehood without the consent of Israel. UN Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo has made U.S. opposition clear, saying, “Let there be no doubt: symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September will not create an independent Palestinian state. The United States will not support unilateral campaigns at the United Nations in September or any other time.” A U.S. veto on Palestinian statehood may, however, strain relations with the Middle Eastern and North African countries.