Senate Foreign Relations, Abraham Accords Caucus leaders introduce sweeping Abraham Accords legislation
The Regional Integration and Normalization Act provides for a host of new and expanded programs to promote normalization as well as a new ambassador for normalization
The senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee joined the Senate co-chairs of the Abraham Accords Caucus on Thursday to introduce legislation aimed at expanding and strengthening the Abraham Accords through a host of new programs and proposals for more than $120 million in funding, as well as an ambassador-level official for the Abraham Accords.
The Regional Integration and Normalization Act (RINA Act) is sponsored by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jim Risch (R-ID), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and James Lankford (R-OK).
“This bill capitalizes on the dynamics that are profoundly reshaping the Middle East and North Africa,” Menendez said in a statement. “Further integration in this region, one marked by conflict and disunity, must be a pillar of U.S. foreign policy moving forward. It will remain a region that is critical to U.S. strategic interests, and we should support efforts that increase stability and prosperity for our partners and the region’s citizens.”
Menendez predicted that the bill would pass with broad bipartisan support.
The bill states that promoting integration and normalization “is in the strategic interest of the United States, and should be a key pillar of United States foreign policy,” and that regional integration should include “opportunities for participants beyond only those countries with formal normalization.”
The legislation names Saudi Arabia as a “key [partner] in regional integration” eligible for many of the Negev Forum-adjacent programs the bill would create.
The bill addresses the role of the Palestinians in the region, framing the Accords and the Negev Forum as potential vectors for reducing conflict, improving ties, supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace and improving the economy and quality of life for Palestinians.
It states that the Negev Forum would “benefit from constructive and positive participation by the Palestinian Authority,” and that such participation “should remain a priority for current and future structures.”
The bill “will substantively direct and assist the Biden Administration’s efforts to expand and strengthen these normalization agreements by furthering cooperation across a range of societal sectors, fostering meaningful people-to-people engagement, and providing opportunities for these advancements to also benefit the Palestinian people,” Booker said in a statement. “I also believe this important work must actively contribute to achieving a lasting peace, including making progress toward a negotiated two-state solution, and guaranteeing freedom, security, and prosperity for all people in the region.”
It also calls on the U.S. to “develop and implement a regional security strategy,” highlighting threats from Iran and the importance of U.S. partners and multilateral partnerships in countering this threat.
The bill would create a special envoy at the rank of ambassador for the Abraham Accords, Negev Forum and related normalization agreements, as well as a Regional Integration Office at the State Department. The bill specifies that the ambassador may not hold other responsibilities within the federal government.
Outside of the State Department, the bill calls for a whole-of-government approach to support the proposed special envoy’s work and the normalization agreements.
“The Abraham Accords and related normalization agreements are fundamentally transforming the Middle East and have the potential to grow to Africa, the Indo-Pacific, and beyond. It is in the United States’ interest to expand the circle of friends with Israel,” Risch said in a statement. “Leadership matters. This legislation rightly creates a special envoy, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, charged with strengthening and expanding the Accords.”
Ernst told Jewish Insider the day before the bill was introduced that the Abraham Accords Caucus had not had formal discussions over the possibility of a dedicated envoy, and that she had not yet taken a position on whether such a role would be appropriate or necessary. An individual familiar with the situation said the bill was not finalized until Thursday.
“I’m proud to help introduce this bipartisan bill that would establish a presidential envoy to lead the United States’ efforts to deepen and expand normalization, strengthen our cybersecurity cooperation with Abraham Accords countries, and advance regional economic integration that provides tangible benefits to people across the Middle East,” Rosen said in a statement.
With an eye toward economic cooperation, the bill calls on the administration to negotiate a “comprehensive economic framework” among Negev Forum and Abraham Accords members, with goals including improving supply chains, synchronizing regulations, bringing in foreign investment, promoting renewable energy and advancing digital integration.
It also asks for the State Department to provide a strategy for using the U.S.’ own economic tools to promote investment in infrastructure and “other critical sectors.”
It would authorize a $105 million “opportunity fund” over the next six years for the purpose of advancing the Accords and Negev Forum, including promoting public and private sector investment. The funding can also be transferred from the State Department to other federal agencies involved in advancing normalization.
The bill also proposes $2 million annually for a new Young Middle East Leaders Initiative Program (YMELI) to support young leaders from Negev Forum and other regional countries through professional development, economic and technical assistance and fellowships. The program would also develop training centers in the region.
It proposes additional funding for various existing U.S. projects including $6 million for Arab-Israeli scientific cooperation; $500,000 annually for desalination research; $1 million annually for technology and other multilateral cooperation; $1 million annually for interfaith dialogue and education; and $1 million annually for educational and cultural exchange programs, including grants for people-to-people programs. It proposes another $4 million annually to fund cooperative projects to address environmental sustainability.
“Through this bipartisan effort, we can promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue, develop innovative projects across the Accords members, strengthen security cooperation with our partners, and increase economic prosperity,” Ernst said in a statement.
It would also expand the U.S.’ existing programs funding bilateral U.S.-Israel scientific cooperation — the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD), the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF) and Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) — to include projects that also include participants from Abraham Accords and Negev Forum countries.
“The U.S. and Israel have several international agreements for cooperation in science, agriculture, cybersecurity, and more, and we should build on our successful relationship and collaboration with Israel with the rest of the Abraham Accords countries,” Lankford said in a statement. “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.”
The lawmakers call for efforts to build on the I2U2 grouping including Israel, India, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, and consider bringing Saudi Arabia and other regional actors into the I2U2.
It additionally provides for efforts to increase Abraham Accords cybersecurity cooperation efforts launched earlier this year, including joint training and information sharing efforts.
The bill also adds new mandates for the government to provide a strategy to Congress on ongoing and future efforts to expand and strengthen the agreements across a range of policy areas. This includes a specific requirement to report on efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.