This annual bill provides appropriations to the State Dept., foreign operations, and related programs, serving as a tool for Congress to influence foreign policy. Relevant provisions cover military support for Israel; new efforts to undermine the BDS movement; military and economic support for Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan; and conditions on aid to the Palestinians.
After the Senate Appropriations Comm. marked up and reported its version of the bill for FY 2017, the Senate failed to pass it. Therefore, the summary below reflects the intentions of the comm.
Assistance to Israel
This bill would increase military aid to Israel, inching closer to the sum reached in the 9/14/16 MoU between Pres. Obama and PM Netanyahu. Within 30 days of this bill becoming law, $3.4 b. would be disbursed to Israel in foreign military financing (FMF), of which Israel would be permitted to spend $815.3 m. in Israel, thereby subsidizing private Israeli defense firms (this arrangement is unique among all recipients of U.S. aid). The comm. added $300 m. to the annual appropriation stipulated in the MoU “given the persistent deteriorating security situation in the Middle East,” according to their accompanying report.
In a perennial provision, the bill would allow for Israel (and Egypt) to lease certain U.S. military armaments and equipment if the president determines there were “compelling foreign policy or national security reasons” for doing so.
Interest and earnings accrued by the Israeli Arab Scholarship Program’s endowment would be authorized for expenditure, as in previous years. The comm. report recommended that $47,000 be made available for FY 2017, up from $13,000 last year.
Down from $10 m. last year, $7.5 m. would be made available for the resettlement in Israel of emigrants from Eastern Europe.
In a provision appropriating funds for nuclear nonproliferation, the bill condoned funding for the IAEA, so long as the secretary of state determined that Israel was not being denied its right to participate. Likewise, the secretary of state would have to certify that the UN Human Rights Council was taking steps to remove Israel as a permanent agenda item before any funds appropriated from this bill could be disbursed to the Council.
Undermining the BDS Movement
In the Senate Appropriations Comm.’s markup of this bill on 6/29, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) proposed an amendment that would add the full text of his bill, the Combating BDS Act of 2016 (S. 2531 of 2/10/16), to the measure at hand. It was adopted by voice vote.
Funding for the PA and Programs in the West Bank and Gaza
Unlike in previous years, when Congress merely authorized unspecified appropriations for economic support of the PA and U.S. programs in the West Bank and Gaza, the Senate Appropriations Comm. recommended $302.75 m. in support for these programs in FY 2017, including $266.75 m. from the Economic Support Fund (ESF), $35 m. to support the PA security forces (PASF) through the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) fund, and $1 m. for nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, and demining activities.
In addition to all the other perennial provisions conditioning and limiting aid to the Palestinians (see below), the secretary of state would be required to report to Congress 45 days before any disbursal on how the money will “advance Middle East peace, improve security in the region, continue support for transparent and accountable government institutions, promote a private sector economy, and address urgent humanitarian needs.”
As in FY 2016, support for the PA would be suspended if the Palestinians obtained member-state status or equivalent standing at the UN or any agency thereof outside a negotiated agreement with Israel, or if they initiated or supported an ICC investigation into Israeli nationals for alleged crimes against Palestinians. The secretary of state would be allowed to waive the suspension if he could certify to Congress that it was in the interest of national security.
In a related provision, the president would be authorized to waive the ban on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in the U.S. if he could certify to Congress that it was a national security interest, or if the Palestinians had not obtained member-state status or equivalent standing at the UN or any agency thereof. Carrying over a new provision from last year, the president would also have to certify that the Palestinians had not “taken any action . . . intended to influence a determination by the ICC to initiate a judicially authorized investigation,” or support such an investigation, into alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians. The president would be permitted to waive this restriction if he could certify that the Palestinians had entered into direct negotiations with Israel.
The secretary of state would be directed to reduce any assistance to the PA by an amount equal to that which the PA, PLO, and any successor organization paid to individuals imprisoned in Israel on terrorism charges during the previous year.
In a new provision added this year, the secretary of state would be required to report to the House and Senate appropriations comms. within 45 days of this bill’s passage on whether UNRWA was deploying support officers to inspect the agency’s operations and to report inappropriate use; acting promptly to address any staff violations of agency policies; implementing procedures to maintain the neutrality of its facilities; taking steps to ensure compliance with U.S. law; working to ensure that all UNRWA content promotes human rights, dignity, and tolerance, and does not induce incitement; compliant with the UN’s biennial audit requirements.
Finally, the secretary of state would be required to report to Congress on support given to the PASF, including a description of any changes to the PA’s security strategy.
Military Assistance to Egypt
As in each of the years since the ouster of Pres. Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in 2011, congressional leaders modified the conditions of annual military and economic support for the country, but left the overall totals relatively unchanged. So long as the secretary of state could certify that the Egyptian government was sustaining its strategic relationship with the U.S. and meeting its obligations under its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, $1.381 b. would be made available to Egypt, including $1.3 b. in FMF, $75 m. in ESF (down from $150 m. in FY 2016), $2 m. in INCLE, $3 m. for nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, and demining, and $1.8 m. for international military education and training
Of the ESF, $35 m. would be directed to higher education programs, including $10 m. for scholarships for Egyptian students with high financial need. The secretary of state would withhold an amount of the ESF appropriation equal to that spent by the U.S. and NGOs on legal and court fees for democracy-related trials in Egypt.
Before any disbursals of FMF, the secretary of state would need to certify to Congress that Egypt is taking “effective steps” to advance democracy and human rights; implement reforms protecting freedom of expression and the rights of women and minorities; release political prisoners; hold Egyptian security forces accountable for human rights violations; investigate and prosecute extrajudicial killings, such as the murder of Italian citizen Giulio Regeni in 1/2016; and provide U.S. officials regular access to monitor the use of U.S. aid.
As in FY 2016, the ESF appropriation would be authorized for use in the creation or operation of one or more enterprise funds for Egypt (see *H.R. 2029 of 4/24/15 at congressionalmonitor.org for a full explanation of these funds).
Military and Economic Support for Jordan
No less than $1 b. would be made available for assistance to Jordan. Additionally, funds appropriated in this act would be made available for the implementation of the Jordan Response Plan for the Syria Crisis, a government initiative to administer Jordan’s intake of Syrian refugees. Furthermore, an unspecified amount would be made available for loan guarantees to Jordan.
Responding to the Crisis in Syria
Funds appropriated in this bill under the ESF, INCLE, and Peacekeeping Operations headings would be made available for programs providing non-lethal assistance to civilians affected by the conflict in Syria. Specifically, the money would support programs seeking to establish “representative, inclusive, and accountable” governance; develop and implement democratic and transparent political processes; advance the legitimacy and viability of the Syrian opposition; further develop and sustain civil society and independent media; promote stability and economic development; document, investigate, and prosecute human rights violations; expand the role of women in the political resolution to the conflict; assist Syrian refugees to complete higher education requirements; assist vulnerable populations; protect and preserve the cultural identity of the Syrian people; protect cultural heritage sites; and counter extremism. Prior to disbursal of any funds, the secretary of state would be required to report to Congress, including any necessary updates on U.S. strategy in Syria, and to ensure that all monitoring and oversight mechanisms are in place.
Assistance to Lebanon
The comm. recommended $233.51 m. be made available for Lebanon, including $110 m. in ESF; $105 m. in FMF to “professionalize” the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), enhance border and internal security, and combat terrorism; $10 m. for the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) and LAF for domestic security issues; $5.76 m. for nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, demining, and related programs; and $2.75 m. for military education and training. As in FY 2016 and previous years, the appropriations made available to the ISF and LAF would be suspended if either group is determined to be controlled by a foreign terrorist organization.
Oversight and Policy on Iran
Unspecified funds would be made available for the implementation and enforcement of existing U.S. sanctions against Iran for “support of terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missile and weapons proliferation”; to fund any necessary responses to Iranian violations of the 7/14/15 nuclear deal; for democracy-promotion programs in Iran; and to support the prevention of Iranian nuclear weapons capacity. The secretary of state would be required to report to Congress on the status of U.S. and international sanctions on Iran and on the funds released to Iran following the 7/14/15 deal.
Funding and Restrictions for Relevant Government Entities and International Programs/Agencies
UNHRC: All U.S. funding of the UN Human Rights Council would be halted until Israel is removed from the council’s permanent agenda and U.S. participation in UNHRC is determined a national interest. Furthermore, the secretary of state would be required to report to Congress on the resolutions considered in the UNHRC over the previous year and specifically, the steps taken to remove Israel from the permanent agenda.
UNESCO: As in each of the past 3 years, no funds would be appropriated to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The comm. report cited existing U.S. law barring contributions to UN agencies and organizations of which Palestine is a member.
Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA): The bill would make $931.866 m. available to these programs, from which U.S. contributions to UNRWA are traditionally drawn. As in previous years, neither the bill nor the comm. report offered specific funding totals for UNRWA. The secretary of state would, however, be required to certify to Congress that UNRWA is fulfilling a series of requirements and conditions, including addressing any staff or beneficiary violation of its own policies; implementing procedures to ensure the neutrality of its facilities; certifying that all UNRWA education materials are consistent with values of human rights, dignity, and tolerance, and are free from incitement; and complying with the UN’s biennial audit requirements
The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI): Down $10 m. from FY 2016, $60 m. would be appropriated to this program.
Reconciliation Programs: Matching the FY 2016 appropriation, the comm. recommended that no less than $26 m. be made available to support “people-to-people” reconciliation programs in areas of strife around the world, including the Middle East.
International Peacekeeping Activities: Down from the $1.794 b. appropriated in FY 2016, $781.93 m. would be made available for global UN peacekeeping activities. The comm. recommended that no less than $44.5 m. be provided for the Multinational Force and Observers to continue supervising the implementation of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. As in previous years, neither the bill’s text nor the comm.’s report specified other allocations. However, the State Dept.’s requests have largely been honored in the past. For FY 2017, the State Dept. requested $149 m. for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and $14.05 m. for the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Syria, which was expected to continue to operate with forces reduced from 1,250 to 800.
Center for Middle Eastern-Western Dialogue (The Hollings Center for International Dialogue): Marking an increase from $96,000 in FY 2016, the comm. recommended $122,000 in interest and earnings be made available for the Hollings Center’s programs, which facilitate communication between the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries through scholarship programs.
Prohibition against Direct Funding for Certain Countries: As in previous years, loans, credits, insurance, and guarantees to the governments of Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Syria would be banned
Arab League Boycott of Israel: This provision calls on the president and secretary of state to help end the boycott, urges the president to report to Congress annually on steps taken to do so, calls on the Arab League states to normalize relations with Israel and end the boycott, and describes the boycott as an “impediment to peace in the region.”
Palestinian Statehood: No support would be permitted for the establishment of a Palestinian state unless the secretary of state could certify that certain conditions are met: the governing entity of the state must demonstrate a firm commitment to peaceful co-existence with Israel; take steps to counter terrorism in the West Bank, including security coordination with Israel; work with other countries in the region to ensure a lasting peace, including respect for sovereignty, international waterways, and a framework for a just settlement to the issue of Palestinian refugees. The president would be permitted a national security waiver on this provision.
Business with the PA in Jerusalem: No funds appropriated in this bill would be permitted for any diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, except the U.S. consulate, to conduct business with the PA or any successor government.
Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC): Funding for the PBC is prohibited.
Assistance for the West Bank and Gaza: Prior to the disbursal of any ESF to programs in the West Bank or Gaza, the secretary of state must certify that no money will be disbursed to any person or group that has participated in acts of terrorism and that all recipients have been thoroughly vetted. Furthermore, no funding for these programs would be permitted for recognizing or otherwise honoring terrorists. USAID would be awarded up to $500,000 to fulfill its responsibility to audit all grants made for these programs.
Limitation on Assistance to the PA: Barring a presidential national security waiver, all aid to the PA is restricted and conditional. If the president opts to exercise the waiver, the secretary of state must certify to Congress that the PA has established a single treasury account through which to channel all U.S. aid, unified the PA’s civil service roster and payroll, taken steps to counter incitement against Israelis, and is supporting activities that promote peace, coexistence, security, and cooperation with Israel.
Prohibition of Assistance to Hamas and the PLO: No appropriations would be made available for the payment of the salaries of PA officials in Gaza or for the assistance of Hamas or any “entity effectively controlled by Hamas, any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a mbr., or that results from an agreement with Hamas and over which Hamas exercises undue influence.” The president would be allowed to waive this provision if he can certify that all ministers in such a power-sharing arrangement have publicly accepted and complied with 2 principles: recognition of the “Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist” and acceptance of previous bilateral agreements. If the president cannot provide said certification, aid may still be disbursed, but only to specific agencies and programs, including the office of the PA president.
See also: the House’s version of this bill H.R. 5912 of 7/15/16.
Last major action: 6/29/16 placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under general orders.