WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a massive $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package to fund the federal government for the full fiscal year, one day after the U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill.
The bill includes several key details related to Israel, the Palestinians and the Jewish world, most notably $1 billion in emergency Iron Dome missile defense system funding. U.S. President Joe Biden will sign it into law imminently.
The House overwhelmingly approved Iron Dome funding in September as a standalone measure following a brief uproar about including it in a stopgap funding measure, though the fraught House debate marked a new level of scrutiny among progressive Democrats concerning U.S. military assistance to Israel and room for debate within the Democratic Party on the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Despite its overwhelming support in the House as a standalone bill, the Iron Dome funding has remained stagnant in the Senate since October due to Republican Sen. Rand Paul blocking it from being fast-tracked through the Senate via unanimous consent.
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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked "Israel's friends" in the House of Representatives on Thursday and especially President Joe Biden for securing the security aid package.
The bill also covers the $3.3 billion in security assistance and $500 million in missile-defense partnerships, previously agreed upon as part of the 2015 memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Israel. The MOU, which resulted after months of fierce negotiations between the Obama administration and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, covers a 10-year period and $38 billion in military aid to Israel.
Israel, as part of the MOU, agreed to not ask for more funds for missile defense systems for the duration of the deal. Congress, meanwhile, is obligated to annually approve the previously agreed upon funding levels and in July codified an already existing policy aimed at ensuring that countries receiving U.S. military aid use the money in a manner consistent with U.S. national security policy.
The omnibus also includes the Israel Relations Normalization Act, a bill with wide bipartisan support that aims to strengthen and expand Israel's normalization pacts with Arab states. Despite the bill's broad support, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz attempted to remove language from the bill supporting a negotiated two-state solution on the grounds that the U.S. should not dictate a potential resolution to Israel.
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Cruz's efforts failed, and the language in the omnibus includes a provision calling for the State Department to conduct "an assessment of opportunities created by normalization agreements with Israel to advance prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
The omnibus also stipulates that the U.S. provide $219 million in aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza via the Economic Support Fund and $40 million for security assistance via the Bureau of International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement — the largest fiscal U.S. commitment to the Palestinians since 2015. The omnibus further fully funds the $50 million allocated for the Middle East Peace Partnership Act — aimed at expanding “people-to-people” Israeli and Palestinian grassroots programs, as well as joint economic ventures that could help shore up the Palestinian economy.
Concerning U.S. Jews, the package boosts funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides financial aid for houses of worship and nonprofits to improve their security. Congress raised funding for the program from $180 million to $250 million. Jewish leaders and lawmakers have called for the funding to be set at $360 million amid the rise in antisemitic attacks, most notably the hostage situation at the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. It further allocates $5 million toward implementing the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act of 2021, aims to assist the FBI in collecting hate crimes data while giving the Department of Justice a better ability to analyze these crimes.
Because of gridlock on Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers have been forced to pass a number of stopgap funding measures to avoid a federal government shutdown in lieu of passing a massive government funding bill. The urgent need to send aid to Ukraine amid Russia's invasion, however, pushed lawmakers from both parties in both houses of Congress to finally work out their differences. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to be passed prior to the weekend, at which point U.S. President Joe Biden will sign it into law.