The 114th Congress concluded its work and recessed on Dec. 10. While the last two years have been marked by significant partisanship, the U.S.-Israel relationship remains one of the few imperatives that brings together members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. Below is a roundup of pro-Israel provisions enacted by strong, bipartisan majorities of the 114th Congress.
Securing Billions in Security Assistance
Lawmakers secured vital security assistance to Israel to help the Jewish state defend itself—by itself—against mounting regional threats.
Congress provided Israel with $3.1 billion in security assistance in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 and is on track to do the same in FY 2017. This figure reflects the agreed-upon funding levels for years eight and nine of the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding signed by the United States and Israel in 2007.
Israel also received $487 million in vital missile defense assistance in FY 2016. This aid helps fund the three tiers of Israeli missile defense: short-range Iron Dome, medium-range David’s Sling, and long-range Arrow-3. Additionally, Congress appropriated for the first time $40 million for joint U.S.-Israel anti-tunneling cooperation efforts.
In December 2016, lawmakers passed the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes $600.7 million for U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation and $10 million for anti-tunneling efforts. The authorization of these programs is the first in a two-step process; actual funding will be allocated through the Congressional appropriations process.
Pushing Back Against Iran
Congress also led efforts to push back against Iran both before and after the implementation of the Iran nuclear accord, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Lawmakers passed The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which established a procedure for congressional review of any nuclear agreement with Iran. Though Congress was ultimately unable to stop the JCPOA from going into effect, the law provided legislators the ability to comment and vote on the agreement.
In late 2016, Congress voted overwhelmingly to extend the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA)—with a unanimous 99-0 vote in the Senate and a 419-1 vote in the House of Representatives. Originally set to expire at the end of 2016, this critical legislation constitutes the core of American sanctions on Iran and will ensure that there are sanctions in place to “snap back” should Iran violate the nuclear deal. Failure to reauthorize would have removed important American leverage to ensure long-term Iranian compliance with the deal.
The FY 2017 NDAA also includes several provisions that address Congress’ concern with Iranian behavior. Namely, the NDAA requires a quarterly report on any confirmed Iranian ballistic missile launches and on U.S. plans to reinstate sanctions in response to these launches. Additionally, the legislation requires information on Iran’s cyber capabilities to be incorporated into the annual report on Iranian military power mandated under existing law.
Combatting the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement
The 114th Congress also stepped up efforts to combat the global BDS movement.
In 2015, lawmakers passed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which provided the administration authority to conduct and conclude a trade agreement with the European Union (EU) conditioned on certain trade objectives that Congress specified. The only amendment accepted to the TPA was a provision instructing American negotiators to make halting European BDS against Israel a key objective in the ongoing free trade talks.
Other important anti-BDS efforts enacted in the TPA include:
Providing critical legal protection to American businesses operating in Israel or territories under its control;
Expressing Congressional opposition to BDS; and
Creating new administration reporting requirements on an array of global BDS activities.
Progress was also made toward passage of the Combatting BDS Act of 2016. Authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Reps. Juan Vargas (D-CA) and Bob Dold (R-IL), the bipartisan legislation will protect state and local governments’ right to disassociate pensions and contracts from entities that boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel. The bill was adopted as an amendment by the Senate Appropriations Committee, but was unable to reach the House or Senate floor. With 46 cosponsors in the Senate and 167 in the House, the legislation is likely to be reintroduced in the next Congress.
Pushing Back Against Unilateral Palestinian Efforts
Furthermore, Congress repeatedly expressed opposition to increased Palestinian efforts to bypass direct negotiations with Israel and impose a one-sided solution to the conflict on Israel.
In November 2016, the House passed by voice vote H. Con. Res. 165, a bipartisan resolution opposing one-sided U.N. Security Council actions against Israel and urging the administration to veto any such measures. The House and Senate sent bipartisan letters signed by overwhelming majorities to the president in April 2016 and September 2016 respectively, conveying this same message.
Congress also included provisions in this year’s State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs appropriations bill conditioning or restricting aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Specifically, these provisions would:
Cut off aid to the PA if it takes action against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC), or if it seeks statehood or an elevated status at the U.N. or other U.N. agencies;
Mandate the closing of the PLO office in Washington if the Palestinians go to the U.N. or ICC; and
Reduce aid to the Palestinians in dollar-for-dollar equivalents to what they provide in payments to terrorists and their families.
Enhancing U.S.-Israel Water Cooperation
In December 2016, Congress passed three substantive U.S.-Israel water provisions as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act.
The three provisions will:
Restructure the federal desalination grant program in a manner incentivizing cooperation with Israel;
Require the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a coordinated strategic plan with certain allies, specifically Israel, for the development of new water technologies; and
Authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to engage in technology transfer and research and development with Israel and other allies for the purpose of the development of water resources.
Taken together, these provisions will help foster greater collaboration with Israel in the federal government’s approach to water technologies.
Deepening U.S.-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation
Finally, lawmakers passed on Dec. 10 the United States-Israel Advanced Research Partnership Act, which will deepen U.S.-Israel cybersecurity cooperation.
Specifically, the law permanently authorizes an already-existing three-year joint research-and- development program at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and expands it to include cybersecurity technologies. Currently, the focus of the program is wearable technologies for first responders.
Another U.S.-Israel cybersecurity bill—the United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2016 (H.R. 5843)—passed the House by voice vote on Nov. 29, but was unable to clear the Senate before Congress adjourned. This legislation would establish a cybersecurity grant program for joint research-and-development opportunities between Israeli and American entities. The bill is likely to be reintroduced in the next Congress.
These two pieces of legislation signal a growing Congressional consensus that Israeli technology and expertise will play a crucial role in U.S. cybersecurity efforts.
The 114th Congress has proven to be a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship, advancing a number of pro-Israel pieces of legislation: Lawmakers funded annual security assistance to Israel, pushed back against Iran, took a stand against BDS and Palestinian efforts to impose a one-sided solution on Israel, and expanded cooperation in emerging key areas like water and cybersecurity cooperation. Together, the United States and Israel are stronger and more secure.
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