U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) joined U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) to introduce the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, an updated version of the bipartisan legislation introduced in March 2013 that would help strengthen economic and security cooperation between the two countries. The measure is supported by 79 Senators.
The legislation reaffirms the United States’unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and the strong, historic U.S.-Israel relationship. It supports efforts to deepen U.S.-Israeli cooperation on defense, including continued U.S. assistance to Israel for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System, while also reiterating U.S. support for a negotiated political settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians that results in two states living side-by-side in peace and security.
“Since coming to office, I have been committed to building the strongest possible security and diplomatic partnership with Israel. This bi-partisan bill, which I am proud to co-sponsor, deeps our relationship with Israel in the areas of defense, education, and energy,” Senator Booker said. “The United States and Israel share a history of strong cooperation on the basis of shared ideals and democratic principles and this bill sends a strong message that our partnership with Israel continues to endure.”
“While we work toward a just peace in the Middle East and an end to the tragedy of war, it is critical that we reaffirm our enduring commitment to Israel’s security and the historic ties between our two nations,” Senator Boxer said. “This legislation sends a clear message that America’s bond with Israel remains unbreakable, and I am proud that it has the support of more than three-quarters of the Senate.”
“I’m pleased to help lead this bipartisan effort to reassert Congress’ commitment to Israel’s security and deepen our country’s defense relationship with our ally during this extremely critical moment in the Middle East region,” Senator Blunt said. “America’s long-standing relationship and strong cooperation with Israel dates back to the presidency of fellow Missourian Harry S. Truman, and this bill will reaffirm and broaden the important U.S.-Israel alliance through security, energy, and trade.”
Specifically, the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014:
· Authorizes an increase of $200 million in the value of U.S. weapons held in Israel, to a total of $1.8 billion. This stockpile is intended for use by U.S. forces in the event of a crisis, but it can also be used by Israel in the event of an emergency with Israel reimbursing the U.S. for any weapons used.
· Requires the Administration to take steps toward allowing Israel to be included in the top-tier category for license-free exports of certain U.S. technologies and products.
· Authorizes the President to carry out cooperation between the U.S. and Israel on a range of policy areas including energy, water, homeland security, and alternative fuel technologies. And it requires the President to study the feasibility of expanding U.S.-Israel cooperation on cyber security.
· Includes new language that encourages the Administration to work with Israel to help the country gain entry into the Visa Waiver Program, which would make it easier for Israeli citizens to travel to the United States without first having to obtain a visa.
· Requires the Administration to provide more frequent and more detailed assessments on the status of Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.
· Strengthens collaboration between the U.S. and Israel on energy development and encourages increased cooperation between the two countries’ academic, business and governmental sectors.
The new legislation amends previous language in the bill related to Israel’s eligibility to join the Visa Waiver Program. The new language expresses the Sense of Congress that Israel should be designated as a program country under the Visa Waiver Program, and clarifies that it is up to the Administration to determine if Israel has met the requirements to gain entry to the program.
The bill urges U.S. engagement with Israel to help it meet the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program. It would authorize – but not require – the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement for Israel only if Israel meets all the other program requirements and as long as the nonimmigrant visitor visa refusal rate for Israelis traveling to the United States does not exceed 10 percent.
The measure also clearly states that Israel must extend “reciprocal privileges…without regard to race, religion, national origin, or ethnicity” to all Americans in order to be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.
Currently, there are 38 countries in the Visa Waiver Program. The provision allows travelers to enter the United States for business or leisure as visitors for up to 90 days without first getting a visa. [TLS]