A trade bill which passed a senate vote Thursday is set to be signed into law by US President Barack Obama, despite his objections to its pro-Israel portions. The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 came before Congress last summer as part of a package designed to strengthen rule enforcement and address currency manipulation.
The bill, however, contains a provision which would extend agreements with Israel into “Israeli-controlled territories”, a move lauded by pro-Israel lobby AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) but criticised by the White House, which said it “contravenes longstanding U.S. policy towards Israel and the occupied territories, including with regard to Israeli settlement activity.”
A statement by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged that the president would sign the bill despite his objections. “As with any bipartisan compromise legislation, there are provisions in this bill that we do not support,” he explained. “However, the legislation would strengthen trade enforcement at our ports and borders and improve our ability to stop evasion of our trade laws; improve transparency, accountability, and coordination in enforcement efforts; and give us unprecedented new tools to address unfair currency practices. Its passage is an important milestone in our overall trade agenda.”
The bill includes a clause intended to curb politically-motivated trade moves, such as limiting or prohibiting economic relations with Israel. The clause, which discourages corporate or state-affiliated entities from participating in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, received particular accolades from AIPAC.
“The provision puts the US firmly on record opposing BDS and supporting enhanced commercial ties between the United States and Israel,” AIPAC said in a statement Thursday. “This measure builds on the important work of Congress … passing into law firm anti-BDS negotiating objectives for American trade negotiators.”
In accordance with the bill, 180 days following its passage, the US administration will be required to report to the Congress on global BDS activities, including the participation of foreign companies in political boycotts of Israel. A number of legal protections for American businesses operating in Israel are also included.
While Obama opposes BDS, the White House expressed concern about extending such a clause to East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria, regions considered “occupied”. Long-standing US policy has held that Israeli settlement activity in these regions undermine peace efforts and the establishment of a two-state solution.
As one administration official told The Times of Israel, successive US governments have walked a fine line between enhancing economic ties with Israel and preserving the possibility of a two-state solution with the Palestinians. He said this has been a priority for both Democrats and Republicans since the US-Israel Free Trade agreement was signed in 1985.
The bill passed Thursday’s Senate vote 75-20.