Congress is overwhelmingly willing to sanction Hamas and Hezbollah officials who use human shields — but isn’t quite ready to take the fight to the United Nations.
When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced Texas Republican Ted Cruz’s STOP Using Human Shields Act last week, it stripped language requiring the Donald Trump administration to push for a UN Security Council resolution that would place multilateral sanctions on terrorist groups using human shields.
An aide to committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told Al-Monitor that some members of the committee had “concerns about prospectively endorsing a United Nations Security Council resolution that had not yet been finalized.”
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called on the Security Council to address Hamas and Hezbollah’s use of human shields in April. It was not immediately clear whether a new resolution is actually in the works as Haley’s office did not respond to Al-Monitor’s request for comment.
“Hamas has exploited and endangered the very Palestinian people it claims to represent by locating rocket launchers near schools, apartment buildings, hotels, churches and UN facilities,” Haley said at the time.
At the behest of the United States and Israel, the UN General Assembly did include language on human shields as part of a broader, nonbinding counterterrorism resolution in June. The resolution came after the General Assembly accused Israel of using excessive force against Palestinian protesters in Gaza earlier that same month.
Cruz’s original bill would have directed Haley to push for a Security Council resolution that would place UN sanctions on “terrorist groups” for using human shields, require the UN to “track and report the use of human shields in monitored conflicts” and spell out consequences for using UN “personnel or facilities as human shields.”
The bipartisan Senate bill, which boasts 45 co-sponsors, builds upon individual efforts in the House from Reps. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., to separately sanction Hamas and Hezbollah for human shield use. Both the Wilson and Gallagher bills passed the House unopposed earlier this year.
The latest version of the Senate bill also deletes a lengthy preamble singling out Hamas and Hezbollah for civilian deaths resulting from the use of human shields.
Lara Friedman, the president of the liberal Foundation for Middle East Peace, argued that the underlying intent of Cruz’s original bill was never about sanctions and was instead an attempt to “establish as a matter of US law that responsibility for Israel killing any civilians in Gaza falls 100% on Hamas.”
“Given the size and population density of Gaza, there is virtually no way Hamas could exist or operate in Gaza that would not be characterized by Israel as involving the use of human shields,” she wrote in a July analysis for her organization.
Cruz and pro-Israel groups lobbying in favor of the legislation appear to be satisfied with the abbreviated version omitting the UN provisions.
After the markup, Cruz issued a statement commending the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for advancing the abridged bill and expressed hope that the “Senate will move swiftly to advance this important legislation.”
Sandra Hagee Parker, the chairwoman of the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Action Fund, also noted that her organization is fine with the changes. CUFI asked lawmakers to pass the legislation during its annual lobbying day in July.
“While we appreciated the language [in the original bill], given the administration’s track record, including Ambassador Haley’s strong voice at the UN, we are pleased with the current version of the bill,” Parker told Al-Monitor.
Regardless of the bill’s future, the Trump administration already has plenty of authority to sanction Hamas and Hezbollah.
“Given that the US already has far-reaching sanctions on members of US-designated foreign terrorist organizations and those working with them, it is not clear at this point how these sanctions are not redundant,” Friedman wrote shortly after the markup.
But Parker believes that the extra sanctions authorities could prove useful for the Trump administration.
“In deploying American sanctions over the last decade or so,” she said, “policy experts have learned that having multiple authorities to sanction rogue actors and terrorists is crucial to advancing US national security interests.”