Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2018

July 24, 2017
July 24, 2017
Reported to full House for consideration

This annual bill provides appropriations to the State Dept., foreign operations, and related programs. It is one of the main tools used by Congress to influence foreign policy. Relevant provisions cover military support for Israel; military and economic support for Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan; and conditions on aid to the Palestinians.

The summary below reflects the draft of the bill that Rogers reported out of the House Appropriations Comm. on 7/24. The House never considered it, and State Dept. and foreign appropriations advanced via separate bills (see H.R. 3354 of 7/21/17, *H.R. 601 of 1/23/17, *H.J. Res. 123 of 12/4/17, and *H.R. 1370 of 3/6/17)

Assistance to Israel

Matching last year’s appropriation, $3.1 b. in military support would be made available to Israel via foreign military financing (FMF) grants. As in previous years, the Israeli government would be permitted to spend $815.3 m. in Israel, effectively subsidizing Israel’s defense industry (This arrangement is unique among U.S. aid recipients).

Unspecified funds would be made available to provide additional military support in the form of financing for the Israeli government to lease certain pieces of military machinery, including weapons, from U.S. commercial suppliers, but only if the president determined such an arrangement would be in the national interest (Egypt would also be made eligible for such financing).

Interest and earnings accrued by the Israeli Arab Scholarship Program’s endowment were authorized for expenditure. The comm. report noted that interest and earnings in 2019 were projected to total $65,000, up from $47,000 in FY 2017.

Matching last year’s appropriation, $7.5 m. would be made available for the resettlement in Israel of emigrants from Eastern Europe.

Undermining the BDS Movement

As they did last year, the comm. directed the president to incorporate into the requested report on the Arab League boycott of Israel a section about efforts to boycott, sanction, and divest from Israel, including a list of any companies, international organizations, countries, and other organizations involved in promoting BDS, as well as any steps the State Dept. has taken to “discourage or end” BDS activities.

Economic and Security Assistance for the PA, West Bank, and Gaza

An unspecified amount of support for the PA and U.S. programs in the West Bank and Gaza would be made available. Because the administration’s requests for these programs has been largely obliged in recent years, the State Dept.’s FY 2018 request is summarized below.

For reasons unrelated to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Trump administration consolidated the Economic Support Fund (ESF), the primary budgetary vehicle for foreign economic aid, with the Development Assistance account in 2017. Therefore, the request for funds supporting the Palestinians was made under the new Economic Support and Development Fund (ESDF) this year. The State Dept. requested $215 m. in ESDF for programs in the West Bank and Gaza in FY 2018, down from $327.6 m. in FY 2017. In its request, the department insisted that supporting these programs “remains critical to advancing the U.S.’s long-standing national security priority of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace.” Specifically, this money was designated for programs designed to strengthen the local economy, improve education systems, expand transportation networks, and address basic humanitarian needs in Gaza.

The State Dept. also requested $35 m. to promote “long-term sustainability and effectiveness” of the PA security forces and Ministry of Interior under its budget for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE); $1 m. for nonproliferation, antiterrorism, demining, and related programs.

The comm. slightly modified the usual restrictions and conditions on disbursals of aid to the Palestinians and ignored the Trump administration’s new ESDF, opting to appropriate funds via the old ESF system. The secretary of state would still be required to report to Congress prior to any obligation of funds that its purpose was to advance Middle East Peace; improve security in the region; continue support for transparent and accountable government institutions; promote a private sector economy; or address urgent humanitarian needs.”

No ESF would be made available for assistance to the PA if the Palestinians have obtained the same standing as member states or full membership in the UN or any agency thereof outside an agreement with Israel, or if the Palestinians have initiated or actively supported an ICC investigation into Israeli nationals’ alleged crimes against Palestinians. Unlike in previous years, neither the president nor the secretary of state would be allowed a national security waiver of this provision.

The secretary of state would be directed to reduce the amount of ESF made available for supporting the PA by an amount equal to that which the PA or PLO paid out to Palestinians imprisoned for acts of terrorism and the families of Palestinians killed committing such acts during the previous year. The secretary would also be required to report to Congress the amount of such payments made during FY 2018 and on any steps taken to end these payments.

Finally, the secretary would be required to file 2 reports to Congress: one on steps taken by the PA to “counter incitement of violence against Israelis and promote peace and coexistence with Israel,” and one on assistance provided to the PSF, including “detailed descriptions” of training, curriculum, and equipment provided; an assessment of the PF before and after training; a description of the assistance provided to the PSF by other countries; and a description of any modifications to the PA’s security strategy.                 

Military and Economic Support for Egypt

Across a variety of programs and provisions, $1.456 b. would be made available to Egypt, including $1.3 b. in FMF; $150 m. in ESF; $2 m. in INCLE; $3 m. for nonproliferation, antiterrorism, demining, and related programs; and $1.8 m. for international military education and training. The comm. recommended that no less than $35 m. of the ESF be made available for higher education programs in Egypt, including $10 m. for scholarships for Egyptian students with high financial needs.

In terms of restrictions, the secretary of state would be required to report to Congress prior to any disbursal that the Egyptian government is “sustaining the strategic relationship with the U.S.” and “meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.” The ESF appropriation would be made available for democracy and development programs in the Sinai Peninsula; and subject to both prior consultations with Congress and section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which stated that “No assistance shall be furnished under this Act … to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the secretary of state has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” The secretary would be able to waive that restriction if he determines and reports to Congress that the Egyptian government is “taking effective steps to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice.” Furthermore, the secretary would be directed to withhold an amount of ESF equal to that which the U.S. and any NGO has spent posting bail in connection with democracy-related trials (This provision would sunset when Egypt dismisses the convictions of NGO workers in a high-profile democracy-related trial in 2013.) Finally, the secretary would also be required to report to Congress every 90 days on steps taken by the Egyptian government to “advance democracy and human rights”; “implement reforms that protect freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly”; and “improve the transparency and accountability of security forces.”

Unspecified ESF would be made available for loan guarantees for Egypt, but only if the administration consulted with Congress prior to engaging in such an arrangement.

Oversight on Iran Policy

Noting that it is “deeply concerned about the nuclear ambitions of Iran and the resulting threat to the U.S. and our allies,” the comm. carried over various provisions extending reporting requirements and conditions related to U.S. policy on Iran. Unspecified funds would be made available to support the U.S. policy to prevent Iran from achieving the capacity to produce or acquire a nuclear weapon; support an “expeditious response” to any violation of the 7/14/15 Iran nuclear deal; support the implementation and enforcement of terrorism-, human rights-, ballistic missiles-, and proliferation-related sanctions; and fund democracy programs for Iran. The secretary of state would be required to report to Congress any information relating to Iran’s 7/2015 agreements with the IAEA and the status of U.S. and multilateral sanctions on Iran, including a description of any entities providing “significant support” for Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Military and Economic Support for Jordan

No less than $1.28 b. would be made available for Jordan, including $812.4 m. in ESF; $450 m. in FMF; $13 m. for nonproliferation, antiterrorism, demining, and related programs; and $4 m. for international military education and training. In providing these funds, the comm. urged the administration to “continue to support critical economic aid and to provide the assistance needed to ensure Jordan’s success in coalition operations, including to strengthen Jordan's borders with Iraq and Syria.”

Responding to the Crisis in Syria

As in recent years, an unspecified amount of support would be made available for non-lethal assistance to programs that seek to establish “representative, inclusive, and accountable” governance in Syria; “empower women through political and economic programs”; develop and implement “democratic” and “transparent” political processes that “strengthen the rule of law”; “further the legitimacy and viability of the Syrian opposition”; develop Syrian civil society and independent media; “promote stability and economic development”; “document, investigate, and prosecute human rights violations”; “expand the role of women in negotiations to end the violence and in any political transition”; assist Syrian refugees complete their education; “assist vulnerable populations in Syria and neighboring countries”; “protect and preserve the cultural identity of the people of Syria as a counterbalance to extremism”; “protect and preserve cultural heritage sites”; and generally “counter extremism.”

Prior to any appropriation for non-lethal assistance, the secretary of state would be required to submit to Congress an update to administration’s comprehensive strategy for disbursing aid in Syria. The secretary would also be directed to take “all practicable steps” to ensure that appropriate oversight mechanisms are in place.

No less than $10 m. would be made available for programs to “protect vulnerable and persecuted religious minorities,” including those in Iraq and Syria.

Assistance for Lebanon

Of the funds appropriated under the INCLE and FMF programs, an unspecified amount would be made available for assistance for Lebanon “to address security and stability requirements in areas affected by the conflict in Syria.” Additional FMF would be made available, but only to “to professionalize the [Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)] and to strengthen border security and combat terrorism.” The secretary of state would have to submit to Congress a spend plan prior to any disbursal of FMF.

The comm. made no specific requests in terms of assistance for Lebanon, so the State Dept.’s request offered the clearest picture of how these appropriations would be spent. The State Dept. requested $6.25 m. in INCLE to help make the Lebanese internal security forces more effective and to enhance Lebanese criminal justice institutions; $85 m. in ESDF to support basic services and programs that promote “democracy, rule of law, good governance, and greater access to clean water and education”; $9.82 m for nonproliferation, antiterrorism, demining, and related programs; and $2.75 m. for international military education and training. The department made no specific request for FMF.

Funding and Restrictions for Relevant Government Entities and International Groups:

UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): As in each of the past 4 years, no funds would be appropriated to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The comm. report cited existing U.S. law barring contributions to UN agencies and organizations of which Palestine is a member.

UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC): No funds would be made available for supporting this body unless the secretary of state reports to Congress that continued support would be in the national interest and that the Council is “taking significant steps” to remove Israel as a permanent agenda item.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA): The comm. recommended continued support for the IAEA. The bill stipulated, however, that no appropriations for support of the agency could be made unless that the secretary of state determines that Israel is not being denied its right to participate.

Middle East Multilaterals: The State Dept. requested $500,000 for this program, which was established after the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference and now works to strengthen engagement between Israel, the oPt, and their Arab neighbors by providing technical expertise for cooperative programs. The bill offered no specific appropriation to support the program.

Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA): The comm. recommended $877.802 m. to support programs that fall under this heading, including UNRWA. As in previous years, neither the bill nor the comm. report offered specific appropriations for support for UNRWA. However, the bill includes a provision barring support for UNRWA unless the secretary of state certifies to Congress that the agency is fulfilling a series of requirements and conditions, including addressing any staff or beneficiary violation of its own policies; implementing procedures to ensure the neutrality of its facilities; certifying that all UNRWA education materials are consistent with values of human rights, dignity, and tolerance, as well as being free from incitement; and complying with the UN’s biennial audit requirements.

The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI): The comm. recommended $12 m. to continue the MEPI scholarship program, which serves under-served secondary school graduates throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Middle East Regional Cooperation Program: Matching the appropriation in FY 2017, the comm. suggested $32 m. for this program, which facilitates research collaboration between Egyptian, Jordanian, Moroccan, Tunisian, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Israeli scientists.

International Peacekeeping Activities: The comm. recommended $965.906 m. in contributions to international peacekeeping activities, which would mark a decrease from the $1.354 b. appropriated in FY 2017. Neither the bill nor the comm. report offered specific appropriations for support for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) or the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Syria, and in a break from previous years, neither did the State Dept.’s budget request. It is therefore unclear how much the Trump administration intended to contribute in FY 2018.

Center for Middle Eastern-Western Dialogue (The Hollings Center for International Dialogue): The comm. recommended $140 m. in interest and earnings from the center’s trust fund to be made available, marking an $18 m. increase from the appropriation for this program in FY 2017. The Hollings Center’s programs facilitate communication between the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries through scholarship programs.

The bill carries over the following annual presidential authorities, funding restrictions, and provisions:

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in the U.S.: The president would be authorized to waive the ban on a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in the U.S. if he could certify to Congress that the Palestinians had not obtained member-state status or equivalent standing at the UN or any agency thereof, or if the Palestinians had not initiated or actively supported an ICC investigation against Israeli nationals for alleged crimes against Palestinians

Prohibition against Direct Funding for Certain Countries: As in previous years, loans, credits, insurance, and guarantees to the governments of Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Syria are banned

Arab League Boycott of Israel: This provision calls on the president and secretary of state to help end the boycott, urges the president report to Congress annually on steps taken to do so, calls on the Arab League states to normalize relations with Israel, calls for the boycott to be terminated, and described the boycott as an “impediment to peace in the region.”

Palestinian Statehood: No support would be permitted for the establishment of a Palestinian state unless the secretary of state certifies that certain conditions are met: the governing entity of the state must demonstrate a firm commitment to peaceful co-existence with Israel; take steps to counter terrorism in the West Bank, including cooperative efforts with Israel; work with other countries in the region to ensure a lasting peace, including respect for sovereignty, international waterways, and a framework for a just settlement to the issue of Palestinian refugees. The president would be permitted a national security waiver on this provision.

Business with the PA in Jerusalem: No funds appropriated in this bill would be permitted for any diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, except the U.S. consulate, to conduct business with the PA or any successor government.

Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC): No support would be made available for the PBC.

Assistance for the West Bank and Gaza: The secretary of state would have to certify that no recipient of funds provided for programs in the West Bank or Gaza has participated in or supported acts of terrorism, and that each recipient has been thoroughly vetted. Furthermore, no funding for these programs would be permitted for recognizing or otherwise honoring terrorists. USAID would be awarded up to $500,000 to fulfill its responsibility to audit all grants made for these programs.

Limitation on Assistance to the PA: All aid to the PA would be suspended barring a presidential national security waiver and a report justifying the use of that waiver. If the president opts to exercise the waiver, the secretary of state would have to certify to Congress that the PA has established a single treasury account to channel all U.S. aid through, unified the PA’s civil service roster and payroll, taken steps to counter incitement against Israelis, and is supporting activities that promote peace, coexistence, security, and cooperation with Israel.

Prohibition to Hamas and the PLO: No appropriations would be made available for the payment of the salaries of PA personnel in Gaza or for the assistance of Hamas or any “entity effectively controlled by Hamas, any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member, or that results from an agreement with Hamas.” The language in this provision was slightly modified this year to exclude entities “over which Hamas exercises undue influence.” The president would be allowed to waive this provision if he can certify that that all ministers in such a government have publicly accepted and complied with 2 principles: recognition of the “Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist” and acceptance of previous bilateral agreements. If the president cannot provide said certification, aid may still be disbursed, but only to specific agencies and programs, including the office of the PA president.



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