The New Middle

Senators introduce bill promoting Arab-Israeli normalization

The bipartisan legislation instructs the State Department to study how the U.S. and partners can help promote normalization

Cory Booker

Mark C. Olsen

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker addresses family, friends, elected officials, and New Jersey National Guard leadership during the farewell ceremony for more than 180 New Jersey Army National Guard Soldiers from Alpha and Charlie Companies, 2nd Battalion, 113th Infantry Regiment, at the Prudential Center, Newark, N.J., Feb. 4, 2019.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill on Thursday aimed at promoting normalization between Israel and Arab states. The bill directs the Department of State to conduct a series of studies and submit reports to Congress on ways the U.S. and its international partners can reinforce and expand upon the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Todd Young (R-IN) and James Risch (R-ID), and seeks to promote normalization by developing and encouraging economic and development cooperation and people-to-people contact between Israelis and Arabs.

The bill argues that the recent normalization agreements “have the potential to fundamentally transform the security, diplomatic and economic environment in the Middle East and North Africa,” as well as “enhance efforts towards” a two-state solution.

The bill would impose a five-year mandate on the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development to develop and submit to Congress an annual strategy for expanding and strengthening the Abraham Accords, through efforts including cultural, economic and security cooperation as well as plans for how existing State Department officers and programs, including the special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, can contribute to normalization efforts.

It would also require the federal government to examine how international donors, institutions and partner countries and existing investment funds and other U.S. government programs can be used to promote normalization. The legislation requires the State Department to consider options for creating an inter-parliamentary exchange program for members of Congress, the Knesset and Arab states’ parliamentary bodies, and to examine creating an “Abrahamic Center for Pluralism” to bring together scholars to combat religious and political extremism. 

The bill further mandates that the Department of State submit a report detailing anti-normalization laws and other penalties for expressing support of Israel in Arab countries.

“The Abraham Accords between Israel and like-minded nations have the potential to fundamentally change the Middle East for the better,” Risch, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “Former opponents and rivals have come together to address shared challenges, and I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation that reaffirms the United States’ commitment to strengthen and expand these historic agreements.”

“The recent peace and normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab states will advance vital United States national security interests,” Cardin said. “I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with my colleagues to expand and strengthen the Abraham Accords. This significant legislation would encourage other nations to normalize relations with Israel and ensure that existing agreements produce tangible security and economic benefits.”

In their own statements, Portman and Booker both highlighted the bipartisan nature of the legislation, which they said underscores American unity on this issue and the bipartisan commitment to Israel’s security.

Thirteen other senators have already co-sponsored the legislation: Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Chris Coons (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), John Boozman (R-AR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Josh Hawley (R-MO).

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) is planning to introduce a companion bill in the House, and is working with both Republicans and Democrats on the legislation, a Schneider spokesman told JI last week. He did not immediately respond when asked when Schneider plans to introduce that bill.

AIPAC lobbied members of Congress on the bill, though the language had yet to be finalized, during its virtual conference last week.