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US Senate introduces $120m bill to boost normalisation with Israel

The bill names Saudi Arabia as 'key regional partner' in regional integration
Senator Bob Menendez participates in a Senate Finance Committee hearing on 22 March 2023 in Washington DC.
Senator Bob Menendez participates in a Senate Finance Committee hearing on 22 March 2023 in Washington DC (AFP)

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has introduced new legislation aimed at strengthening normalisation with Israel through proposals with nearly $120m in funding, and named Saudi Arabia as a "key regional partner" that would be eligible for many of those programmes.

The bill, named the Regional Integration and Normalization Act, was introduced by Senators James Lankford, Jim Risch, Bob Menendez, Jacky Rosen, Joni Ernst and Cory Booker. It aims to bolster initiatives to normalise relations between Israel and the Arab and Muslim-majority world.

"This bill capitalises 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 US foreign policy moving forward. It will remain a region that is critical to US strategic interests, and we should support efforts that increase stability and prosperity for our partners and the region's citizens."

The bill authorises an ambassador-level official for the Abraham Accords, establish an opportunity fund, expand normalisation and "integration", support the development of an Abraham Accords and Negev Forum Economic Partnership, and support joint cybersecurity training.

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"The US 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. 

"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."

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There was a deluge of reporting earlier this year, especially in the Israeli press, with updates on the Biden administration's back and forth with Israel and Saudi Arabia on the progress of normalising ties.

American hopes for an agreement rose in early May when top Biden advisor Jake Sullivan declared that Saudi-Israel normalisation was in the US national security interest.

However, last month Middle East Eye reported that the Biden administration put a chill on these reports, while Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has enjoyed being courted by both Israel and the US.

Earlier this year, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said that expanding the Abraham Accords should not be contingent on illegal Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

"I think you can have these negotiations about the Abraham Accords regardless of any local political issue," the lawmaker told the Times of Israel.

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco established official ties with Israel as part of the US-brokered normalisation agreements in 2020.

Although many analysts say the Palestinian issue was not a central driver for normalisation, the UAE still billed the establishment of ties with Israel in the context of the conflict with Palestine.

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