Congressional spending bill OKs Israel defense aid, Iran and P.A. oversight

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The massive spending bill passed by Congress includes defense assistance for Israel along with tightened oversight of Palestinian funding and Iran nuclear talks.

Included in the $1.1 trillion omnibus bill passed in the Senate by a 56-40 vote on Saturday night was the $3.1 billion in annual defense spending for Israel under a 2007 memorandum of understanding between the United States and Israel. An additional $620 million in joint U.S.-Israel missile defense programs also was part of the measure.

Passed in the waning days of the congressional session, the bill also includes provisions requiring the White House to report to Congress every 30 days on Iran’s compliance with the terms governing nuclear talks between Iran and major powers.

In a statement praising passage of the measure, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee noted that it “also reiterates that it is the policy of the United States to seek to prevent Iran from achieving the capability to produce or otherwise manufacture nuclear weapons.”

Keeping Iran from obtaining “nuclear weapons capability” has been a key point of contention between the Israeli and U.S. governments. Israel and some lawmakers in Congress want any deal to end Iranian uranium enrichment; the Obama administration has said that a final deal likely will allow for a minimal enrichment capability.

New strictures in the spending bill would reduce or eliminate funding for the Palestinian Authority should it not combat incitement to violence; should Hamas have “undue influence” over its workings; and should Palestinian representatives gain statehood recognition in international forums outside of the context of talks with Israel.

The omnibus bill was the result of contentious negotiations between the White House and both houses of Congress on the eve of the Senate’s transfer of leadership from Democrats to Republicans.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the bill last week.