Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2017

July 15, 2016
July 15, 2016
Placed on House calendar

This annual bill would provide appropriations to the State Dept., foreign operations, and related programs. It is one of the main tools used by Congress to influence foreign policy. Relevant provisions cover military support for Israel for FY 2017; the BDS movement; military and economic support for Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan; and conditions on aid to the Palestinians.

The summary below reflects the draft of the bill that the House Comm. on Appropriations marked up and passed on 7/12. The House took no further action on appropriations for the State Dept. or foreign operations until Congress extended FY 2016 appropriations into 2017 (see *H.R. 5325 of 5/25/16 and *H.R. 2028 of 4/24/16).

Assistance to Israel

Unlike the Senate Appropriations Comm., the House comm. recommended the same level of military support for Israel in FY 2017 as was disbursed in FY 2016. Within 30 days of this bill becoming law, $3.1 b. would be made available to Israel in 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).

In a perennial provision, the bill would allow for Israel (and Egypt) to lease certain U.S. military articles if the president determines there are “compelling foreign policy or national security reasons” for doing so.

Interest and earnings accrued by the Israeli Arab Scholarship Program’s endowment were authorized for expenditure, as in previous years. The comm. report recommended that $47,000 be made available for FY 2017, up from $13,000 in FY 2016.

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 permitted funding for the IAEA, so long as the secretary of state determines that Israel is not being denied its right to participate. Likewise, the secretary of state would have to certify that the UN Human Rights Council is taking steps to remove Israel as a permanent agenda item before any support for the Council could be disbursed. 

Undermining the BDS Movement

Although this bill did not include any new provisions targeting Palestinian solidarity activists or the BDS movement as a whole, the comm. did express concern about “international efforts to stigmatize and isolate Israel through the [BDS] movement.” As a part of the president’s annual report to Congress on the Arab League Boycott of Israel, the comm. requested a new section “covering companies, international organizations, countries, and other organizations, including state investment vehicles,” involved in promoting BDS, as well as specific steps taken by the State Dept. to discourage the BDS movement.

Funding for the PA and Programs in the West Bank and Gaza

Funding would be made available for U.S. programs in the West Bank and Gaza and to support the PA, but neither the bill nor the comm. report offered specific amounts. However, the administration’s budget request for these programs had been largely obliged in previous years. The State Dept.’s request for FY 2017 is summarized below, in addition to the new and recurring restrictions and conditions on congressional obligation of that request.

The State Dept. requested $327.6 m. in ESF for the West Bank and Gaza, down from $370 m. in FY 2016. According to the department’s justification document, this money would support “the development of PA institutional capacity to operate transparently, effectively, and efficiently, and to deliver quality services”; promote “the development of a strong private-sector driven economy”; aid “the provision of quality health and education services”; provide “critical infrastructure programming to improve water, sanitation, and road networks”; meet “humanitarian assistance needs”; and provide the PA budget support. The department also requested $36 m. in INCLE funds to support the PASF, down from the $70 m. request for FY 2016.

Prior to disbursement of any ESF, the secretary of state would be required to report that the purpose of the obligation was to “advance Middle East Peace; improve security in the region; continue support for transparent and accountable government institutions; promote a private sector economy; or address urgent humanitarian needs.”

Like last year, ESF disbursement was further restricted as follows: No funds would be disbursed to the PA if the Palestinians achieved the standing of a member-state at the UN or any agency thereof outside an agreement with Israel, or if the Palestinians initiated or supported an ICC investigation into Israeli crimes against Palestinians. Unlike in previous years, neither the president nor the secretary of state would be allowed a national security waiver on this provision.

As in FY 2016 and earlier years, the president would be authorized to waive the ban on a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in the U.S. if he could certify to Congress that the Palestinians had not obtained member-state status or equivalent standing at the UN or any agency thereof, or if the Palestinians had not initiated or supported an ICC investigation int Israeli crimes against Palestinians.

The secretary of state would be directed to reduce the amount of ESF disbursed to the Palestinians by an amount equal to that which the PA or PLO paid to Palestinians imprisoned for acts of terrorism and their families during the previous year. The secretary would also be required to report to Congress on any steps taken by the U.S. and by the Palestinians to end these payments.

Finally, the secretary of state would be required to submit 2 reports to Congress: one on steps taken by the PA to counter incitement of violence against Israelis and promote peace and coexistence with Israel, and another on assistance provided to the PASF, including “detailed descriptions” of training, curriculum, and equipment provided; an assessment of the PASF before and after training; a description of the assistance provided to the PASF by other countries; and a description of any modifications to the PA’s security strategy.         

Military and Economic Support for Egypt        

The House Appropriations Comm. recommended keeping economic and military support for Egypt at levels consistent with previous years, including many of the conditions and restrictions that have come with that aid since the ouster of Pres. Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The comm. recommended $1.3 b. in FMF; $150 m. in ESF; $3 m. for nonproliferation, antiterrorism, demining, and related programs; $2 m. in INCLE; and $1.8 m. from the broad appropriation for international military education and training.            

The funds would only be disbursed to Egypt if the secretary of state certified to Congress that the Egyptian government was “sustaining” its relationship with the U.S. and meeting its obligations under its 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The secretary would also be required to report to Congress on steps taken by the Egyptian government to advance democracy and human rights, and to implement reforms protecting freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Funds would be deducted from the ESF appropriation equal to that which the U.S. or any NGOs expended on legal and court fees  in democracy-related trials (this provision would sunset when Egypt dismisses the convictions of NGO workers in a high-profile democracy-related trial in 2013). The bill further stipulated that ESF for Egypt would be made available for democracy programs and programs supporting development and security in Sinai. 

Like Israel, Egypt would be authorized to lease certain military materials from U.S. commercial suppliers if the president determines it is in the national security interest for it to do so.            

Oversight and Policy on Iran

As in the Senate’s version of this bill, unspecified funds would be made available for the implementation and enforcement of existing U.S. sanction against Iran for “support of terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missile and weapons proliferation”; to support any necessary responses for Iranian violations of the 7/14/15 nuclear deal; for democracy-promotion programs in Iran; and to support the policy of preventing Iran from obtaining or producing a nuclear weapon.

The administration would be required to submit several Iran-related reports to Congress under this act. The secretary of state would be required to inform Congress of any information relating to Iran’s agreements with the IAEA in connection with the JCPOA and another on the status of U.S. and multilateral sanctions on Iran, including a description of any entities involved in Iran’s development of ballistic missiles.

Military and Economic Support for Jordan

Matching the appropriation from last year, no less than $1.275 b. would be made available for the government of Jordan; at least $373 m. of which would be for budget support. Highlighting the strategic importance of assistance for joint coalition operations and fortifying Jordan’s borders with Iraq and Syria, the comm. report broke down this appropriation into $812.35 m. in ESF; $450 m. in FMF; $8.85 m. for nonproliferation, antiterrorism, demining, and related programs; and $3.8 m. from the broad appropriation for international military education and training.            

Responding to the Crisis in Syria

Unspecified funds would be made available for the provision of non-lethal assistance to programs supporting civilians affected by the conflict in Syria. The money would specifically be for programs that seek to establish “representative, inclusive, and accountable” governance; expand the role of women in the political resolution to the conflict; 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 economic development; document, investigate, and prosecute human rights violations; counter extremist ideologies; assist Syrian refugees in completing their higher education requirements; and assist vulnerable populations. Unlike the Senate’s version of the bill, there would be no specific consideration for programs that empower women or protect cultural heritage sites.

Prior to obligation of the abovementioned appropriations, the secretary of state would be required to report on the use of any funds, including any updates on the U.S.’s strategy in Syria, and to ensure that all monitoring, oversight, and control mechanisms are in place.

Assistance to Lebanon

Unspecified FMF would be made available for Lebanon to “professionalize” the LAF), strengthen border security, and combat terrorism, including for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for a cessation of the Israel-Lebanon conflict in 2006. The secretary of state would be required to submit a detailed spending plan to Congress prior to any appropriations and a report to the House and Senate appropriations comms. on the performance of the LAF.

As with appropriations supporting the Palestinians, the State Dept.’s budget request for Lebanon has generally been obliged in previous years. It therefore provides a useful guide to how support for Lebanon will be disbursed in FY 2017. The department requested $110 m. in ESF to support Lebanese institutions that “advance internal and regional stability, combat the influence of extremists, and promote transparency and economic growth”; $10 m. in INCLE to help Lebanese internal security forces “become more responsive to the public’s internal security needs” and to enhance Lebanon’s criminal justice institutions; $2.75 m. for military education and training; and $105 m. in FMF to support Lebanese security and stability in light of the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Funding and Restrictions for Relevant Government Entities and International Groups

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 $922.597 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 verify to Congress that UNRWA is fulfilling a series of requirements and conditions prior to any disbursals, 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, as well as being free from incitement; and complying with the UN’s biennial audit requirements.

The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI): Matching the FY 2016 appropriation, $70 m. would be appropriated to this program.

Middle East Regional Cooperation Program: The comm. recommended appropriations of $5 m. for this program, matching the administration’s request.

Reconciliation Programs: Unlike in previous years, the comm. made no specific recommendation for these programs, stating only that it expected similar amounts to be made available as those provided in previous years. 

International Peacekeeping Activities: Marking a significant reduction from FY 2016 and a $202 m. reduction from the administration’s request, the comm. recommended that $1.38 b. be made available for global UN peacekeeping activities. As in previous years, neither the bill’s text nor the comm.’s report specified funding totals for specific programs under this heading. However, the State Dept.’s requests have largely been honored. 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.

Center for Middle Eastern-Western Dialogue (The Hollings Center for International Dialogue): Increasing appropriations from FY 2016, the comm. recommended $122 m. in interest and earnings be made available for the Hollings Center’s programs, which facilitate communication between the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries though 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 are 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, calls for the boycott to be terminated, 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 certifies that certain conditions are met: the governing entity of the state must demonstrate a firm commitment to peaceful coexistence with Israel; take steps to counter terrorism in the West Bank, including cooperative efforts 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 none of the money would go to any person or group that has participated in or supported 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.

Limits on Aid to the PA: All aid to the PA would be suspended barring a presidential national security waiver and a report justifying the use of that waiver. 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 government 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 Senate’s version of this bill S. 3117 of 6/29/16.

Last major action: 7/15/16 placed on the union calendar.



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