President Obama today signed a bipartisan bill to extend extra support to Israel as a major strategic partner — accompanied by a statement that he reserved the right to interpret the legislation as he sees fit.
The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 was introduced in the House by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and in the Senate by Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
First and foremost, the legislation expresses the sense of Congress that Israel is “a major strategic partner.”
It allows the Defense Department to transfer surplus equipment to Israel, beefs up U.S. defense stockpiles in the country by $200 million, and expands U.S.-Israel cooperation in the fields of energy, water, agriculture, and alternative fuel technologies.
It authorizes the president to share more research and intelligence with Israel and authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to launch pilot programs in coordination with Israel to increase their border, maritime and aviation security. It directs the president to report to Congress on potentials for expansion of cyber-security cooperation.
It includes Israel in the visa waiver program and requires that military sales to other countries in the Middle East won’t harm Israel’s military edge, and the administration has to regularly report to Congress on Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors. It also says the administration must move toward granting top-tier status to Israel for certain license-free exports.
“At a time when Israel is facing many external threats, the U.S. Congress today sends to the president’s desk the U.S. – Israel Strategic Partnership Act seeking to bolster closer ties with our ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel,” Ros-Lehtinen said at the beginning of the month. “At a time when the Iranian regime continues to advance its nuclear ambitions, Hamas unrelentlessly terrorizes Israeli citizens and the Palestinian Authority continues to incite violence and undermine the peace process at every turn, it is important for Congress to stand with Israel in a bipartisan effort.”
“That is why in passing this bill, we will afford Israel the unique status as our major strategic partner and we reaffirm our support to enhance Israel’s qualitative military edge so that it can continue to defend itself and its citizens from all threats.”
Today, in a flood of year-end legislation that passed Obama’s desk, the president signed the bill into law.
He issued a separate statement on it, though.
“This bipartisan piece of legislation reflects the importance placed by my administration on strengthening and deepening U.S.-Israel bilateral cooperation and ties,” Obama said. “It reinforces critical defense and security programs, which have reached an unprecedented level under my administration. It also lays the groundwork for increased trade and cooperation across a range of cutting-edge fields, including energy, water, agriculture, and technology.”
“Sections 11(b) and 12(c)(2) of this bill purport to require me to provide to the Congress certain diplomatic communications and direct the Secretary of State to undertake certain diplomatic initiatives,” he added. “Consistent with longstanding constitutional practice, my administration will interpret and implement these sections in a manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy and to protect the confidentiality of diplomatic communications.”
The legislation comes as the administration is eager to push Israel to a two-state solution with the Palestinians. “It’s a particularly sensitive moment because we understand the frustrations of Palestinians,” Secretary of State John Kerry said this week in London. “We understand the frustrations of the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas and those who are pushing hard, because they don’t see another course at this moment.”
Boxer said in a statement that she applauded Obama for signing the bill “to strengthen our historic relationship with Israel.”
“This law will enhance cooperation between Israel and the United States on a wide range of issues – from defense to energy to cyber security – so we can work together to address the many challenges facing both countries,” she said.