WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Jim Risch (R-ID), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Regional Integration and Normalization Act, a milestone bill that bolsters efforts to normalize relations between Israel and its neighbors in the Arab and Islamic world.
“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,” said Lankford. “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. We are working together in the Senate to enhance our ties with our friend and ally Israel and make big advancements with the peaceful, friendly nations of the Abraham Accords.”
“The Abraham Accords and related normalization agreements are fundamentally transforming the Middle East and have the potential to grow to Africa, the Indo-Pacific, and beyond. It is in the United States’ interest to expand the circle of friends with Israel,” said Risch. “Leadership matters. This legislation rightly creates a special envoy, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, charged with strengthening and expanding the Accords. We must not only grow the Accords, but also ensure these agreements reap tangible security and economic benefits. I hope my Senate colleagues will join me in quickly moving this legislation.”
“This bill capitalizes on the dynamics that are profoundly reshaping the Middle East and North Africa,” said Menendez. “A strong Israel, at peace with its neighbors, is squarely in US national security interests. Today, the Abraham Accords show that normalizing relations with Israel brings tangible benefits in a host of areas, including deepening economic, security, political, and – most importantly – people-to-people ties. 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. I am proud to introduce this bill, and I believe that its passage will be a welcome sign of the broad, bipartisan support that normalization and regional integration enjoys in Congress.”
“The Abraham Accords are transforming the Middle East, enhancing Israel’s security, and creating new economic opportunities. We must continue pushing for the success of these historic agreements,” said Rosen. “I’m proud to help introduce this bipartisan bill that would establish a presidential envoy to lead the United States’ efforts to deepen and expand normalization, strengthen our cybersecurity cooperation with Abraham Accords countries, and advance regional economic integration that provides tangible benefits to people across the Middle East.”
“As co-chair of the Abraham Accords Caucus, I’m committed to building upon this historic model and strengthening regional cooperation to bring peace in the Middle East. Through this bipartisan effort, we can promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue, develop innovative projects across the Accords members, strengthen security cooperation with our partners, and increase economic prosperity,” said Ernst.
“Promoting the deepening of ties and increased normalization of relations between Israel and additional Arab and Muslim-majority nations is critical to unlocking untapped economic opportunity and ensuring robust security for the people of the Middle East and beyond,” said Booker. “As co-chair of the Senate Abraham Accords Caucus, I am proud to help lead this comprehensive bill, which will substantively direct and assist the Biden Administration’s efforts to expand and strengthen these normalization agreements by furthering cooperation across a range of societal sectors, fostering meaningful people-to-people engagement, and providing opportunities for these advancements to also benefit the Palestinian people. I also believe this important work must actively contribute to achieving a lasting peace, including making progress toward a negotiated two-state solution, and guaranteeing freedom, security, and prosperity for all people in the region.”
The Regional Integration and Normalization Act:
- Authorizes Regional Integration Office and Special Presidential Envoy: Creates the Regional Integration Office, headed by a Special Presidential Envoy for the Abraham Accords, Negev Forum, and Related Normalization Agreements, reporting directly to the Secretary of State. The Special Envoy will lead on pursuing additional opportunities to normalize relations with Israel; advance negotiations on an economic and security framework; and harness whole-of-government resources to deliver tangible benefits to the region.
- Establishes Regional Integration Opportunity Fund: Sets up a $105 million fund, the “Abraham Accords, Negev Forum, and Regional Integration Opportunity Fund,” for fiscal years 2024 through 2030. The Secretary of State, in coordination with the Special Envoy, may use these funds or transfer them to other departments or agencies to help advance regional integration and normalization, and encourage public and private sector investment.
- Authorizes new funds to deepen the Abraham Accords and Negev Forum, and expand normalization and integration: Authorizes $6 million for USAID’s Middle East Regional Cooperation program, which provides grants to joint Arab-Israel scientific institution for fiscal year 2024; Authorizes $2.5 million for the State Department for each of the fiscal years 2024 through 2028 to promote interfaith dialogue, desalination efforts, and other multilateral initiatives; Authorizes $4 million for fiscal years 2024 through 2028 to finance cooperative projects relating to water resources, agriculture, and energy storage; Authorizes $1 million to facilitate educational and cultural exchange programs between Israel and other Abraham Accords and Negev Forum countries and other partners.
- Supports the development of an Abraham Accords and Negev Forum Economic Partnership: Expresses the sense of Congress that the Special Envoy should work to develop and negotiate a framework for economic development and cooperation between Abraham Accords and Negev Forum countries.
- Expands BIRD, BSF, and BARD: Authorizes new grants to Abraham Accords and Negev Forum countries provided under three funds: the Israel-United States Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD), the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), and Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD).
- Supports joint cybersecurity training and information sharing: Authorizes the Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security to engage in joint cybersecurity training and information sharing activities with Abraham Accords and Negev Forum countries.
- Establishes Young Middle East Leaders Initiative (YMELI): Sets up a Young Middle East Leaders Initiative modeled off the Young African Leaders Initiatives to provide fellowships, leadership programs, and cultural exchange opportunities for youth between 18 and 35 from Negev Forum countries, as well as from other key partners in the region.
- Supports cross-regional structures: Expresses the Sense of Congress that the US should model off of the ambitious I2U2’s Leaders Summits & Business Forum and should consider expansion of the format across the Middle East and Indo-Pacific, including with Saudi Arabia.
Text of the legislation can be found HERE.