US Senate Foreign Relations Committee advances Israel normalization bill

The bill's companion in the House has 145 co-sponsors and is awaiting consideration by the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  June 25, 2021

Legislation seeking to expand on the previous normalization deals between Israel and Arab countries has seen broad, bipartisan support in US Congress.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has advanced a bill that would seek to strengthen and expand last year’s normalization deals between Arab countries and Israel.

The bill, titled the Israel Relations Normalization Act, passed out of committee on Thursday and is likely to be passed in the Senate.

If it becomes law, the legislation would require the State Department to come up with a formal strategy that details the government’s efforts to promote normalization with Israel and how it would leverage “contributions of international donors, institutions, and partner countries” in order to do so.

The bill’s companion in the House has 145 co-sponsors and is awaiting consideration by the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The United Arab Emirates signed a US-brokered agreement to normalize ties with Israel during the final months of the Trump administration.

The agreements, known as the “Abraham Accords,” shattered a longstanding Arab consensus that there should be no normalization with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

Palestinian leadership has expressed dismay over the deals, which it largely sees as a betrayal of Palestinian goals for statehood.

Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco all followed suit, in deals that failed to address the Palestinian issue or Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and its settlement expansion. The UAE claimed Israel had promised to suspend its plans to annex parts of the West Bank, though annexation had already been shelved due to international pressure and a lack of US support.

The Biden administration has said that, while it welcomed the previous administration’s normalization deals, they are “not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace”.

Debate on two-state solution

Many Democrats in Congress were critical of former president Donald Trump’s foreign policy moves. However, the US-brokered normalizations were met with bipartisan support.

While the bill has seen broad support, Republican Senator Ted Cruz removed himself as a co-sponsor over language calling for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“US diplomats have no business telling our Israeli allies what to do with their territories, let alone pressuring them to cede sovereignty for a Palestinian state,” Cruz said in a statement on Thursday, after the bill passed out of committee.

During the committee’s meeting to pass the bill, Cruz introduced an amendment that would remove the line calling for a two-state solution, turning the session into a heated debate.

Senator Tim Kaine responded to Cruz, saying that support for a two-state solution has been a cornerstone of US policy for decades.

“This is not an imposition of anything,” Kaine argued. 

The amendment ultimately failed in a 19-3 vote against it, with Cruz and Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Hagerty voting in favour.

Cruz and Hagerty also introduced amendments seeking to block aid to the Palestinian Authority, according to the Jewish Insider, which also failed to pass.