The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has proposed a new bill that would allocate nearly $120m to support the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states, as well as other countries and regions that have established ties with the Jewish state.
The bill, called the Regional Integration and Normalization Act, was introduced by a bipartisan group of six senators on Wednesday. It aims to build on the Abraham Accords, the agreements signed last year by Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco to normalize their relations.
The bill would authorize an ambassador-level official to oversee the implementation of the Abraham Accords and coordinate US policy on regional integration. It would also establish an opportunity fund to provide grants and loans to facilitate trade, investment, tourism, energy and other sectors among the parties to the accords.
In addition, the bill would support joint initiatives on cybersecurity, science, technology, agriculture, health and education among Israel and its Arab partners. It would also create a forum for economic cooperation between Israel and the Negev region, which borders Egypt and Jordan.
Saudi Arabia as a partner!
The bill also names Saudi Arabia as a “key regional partner” that would be eligible for many of the programs authorized by the legislation. Saudi Arabia has not formally normalized its relations with Israel, but has reportedly engaged in secret talks and allowed Israeli flights to use its airspace.
The sponsors of the bill said that the legislation would advance US interests and values in the Middle East and North Africa by promoting stability, prosperity and cooperation among Israel and its neighbors.
“This bill capitalizes on the dynamics that are profoundly reshaping the Middle East and North Africa,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the committee and one of the co-sponsors of the bill. “Further integration in this region, one marked by conflict and disunity, must be a pillar of US foreign policy moving forward.”
Senator James Lankford, another co-sponsor of the bill, said that the US should build on its successful relationship with Israel and expand it to other countries that have joined or may join the Abraham Accords in the future.
“The Abraham Accords offer us an obvious ready-made platter for good foreign policy and international cooperation, and we should continue to build on them to our strategic advantage,” he said.
The bill comes amid reports that the Biden administration is seeking to revive the stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who have rejected the Abraham Accords as a betrayal of their cause. The administration has also restored US aid to the Palestinians that was cut by former President Donald Trump.
The bill is expected to receive broad support in both chambers of Congress, where Israel enjoys strong backing from both parties. However, some lawmakers have expressed concerns about linking US assistance to Israel’s settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, which is considered illegal under international law.