Bipartisan US bill aims to advance normalized ties between Israel, Arab states

New legislation from senators Portman and Booker would require State Department to publish annual report on countries’ anti-normalization practices

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speaks during a news conference in Cincinnati. April 16, 2018. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speaks during a news conference in Cincinnati. April 16, 2018. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

WASHINGTON — Two US senators introduced bipartisan legislation last week aimed at promoting normalized relations between Israel and Arab countries.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat, and Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, unveiled a bill Thursday that would require the State Department to publish an annual report on the mistreatment of Arab citizens who violate their county’s anti-normalization laws regarding Israel.

The measure — called the Strengthening Reporting of Actions Taken Against the Normalization of Relations with Israel Act of 2020 — follows a set of recommendations from the Arab Council for Regional Integration. The pan-Arab body, established in 2019, opposes Arab boycotts against Israel, arguing that such tactics hurt, rather than help, Arab interests.

“Anti-normalization laws in the region continue to be a barrier toward communities, people, NGOs and business coming together,” Portman said. “This bill will discourage those Arab League states that continue to enforce anti-normalization laws and support efforts like those proposed by the Arab Council that encourage and defend community engagement amongst Arabs and Israelis.”

A number of Arab countries, such as Syria, Lebanon and Kuwait, have laws punishing their citizens for cooperating with Israeli businesses and individuals.

“While some Arab League governments are signaling enhanced cooperation with the state of Israel on the government-to-government level, most continue to persecute their own citizens who establish people-to-people relations with Israelis in non-governmental fora, through a combination of judicial and extrajudicial retribution,” the legislation states.

“Despite the risk of retaliatory action, a rising tide of Arab civic actors advocate direct engagement with Israeli citizens and residents.”

The bill instructs the US secretary of state to include a country-by-country breakdown of the anti-normalization activities in the department’s yearly report on human rights practices. That will include detailing instances of prosecution or persecution of Arabs who meet or do business with Israeli citizens.

The legislation was praised by organizations that seek to normalize ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

“Civil society has always been the ‘missing piece’ in efforts to forge a just and lasting peace in our region,” said Mostafa El-Dessouki, a co-founder and director of the Arab Council. “This bill will empower the many bridge-builders among us to move forward toward a ‘peace between peoples.'”

Now that the bill has been introduced in the Senate, it will be considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will vote on whether or not to advance it to the entire chamber.

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