Sep 28, 2023 - World

First look: New Senate bill aims to strengthen U.S. Palestinian security post

Members of Palestinian security forces deploy as supporters of the Hamas movement demonstrate in Hebron, on October 14, 2022, to protest a surge in tensions with Israeli forces

Members of Palestinian security forces in Hebron in October 2022. Photo: Hazem Bader/AFP via Getty Images

A bipartisan group of senators led by Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) is introducing a bill that aims to strengthen the position of the U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority and protect it from being downgraded by future administrations, according to the text of the bill shared first with Axios.

Why it matters: The post is one of the most sensitive general officer positions in the U.S. military and plays a key role in coordination between the IDF and Palestinian security forces.

  • The position, which also has a diplomatic function, has become especially important as the security situation in the occupied West Bank continues to deteriorate and the Palestinian Authority weakens.
  • The U.S. security coordinator's role was critical after the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank.

Flashback: Axios last year revealed that the Pentagon considered downgrading the post from the rank of three-star general to that of a colonel.

  • Following the Axios report, Ossoff and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) led a group of 34 senators in urging the Biden administration to cancel the move.
  • Several months later, the Pentagon announced it would not downgrade the position.

Details: The new bill, the Middle East Security Coordination Act of 2023, is sponsored by Ossoff, Todd Young (R-Ind.), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

  • The bill states that security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is in the national security interest of the U.S. because it "assists in reducing the need for Israeli military interventions in the West Bank … [and] provides greater stability and safety for the Palestinian people in the West Bank."
  • It would also authorize the appropriation of $75 million for the U.S. security coordinator and their team for each of the first five fiscal years after the bill is enacted.

According to the bill's text, the U.S. security coordinator should have the rank of a general officer. It would require the secretary of defense to submit a written notice and give justification in any future attempts to downgrade the post.

  • The bill would also require the secretary of state and the U.S. security coordinator to send a written report to Congress about the coordinator's work.
  • The bill doesn't allow the security coordinator to use its budget to provide lethal assistance of any kind to the Palestinian security forces other than ammunition and other lethal assistance needed for training taking place outside of Israel and the West Bank.

What they're saying: "The U.S. Security Coordinator in Jerusalem plays a crucial role in protecting American interests and deescalating conflict in Israel and Palestinian territories… these efforts are essential," Ossoff told Axios in a statement.

  • Young said the bipartisan bill "will promote stability in the Middle East and ensure robust American engagement in the region."

Background: The U.S. security coordinator (USSC) post was created in 2005 in an effort to rebuild and reform the Palestinian security services after the second intifada.

  • The coordinator has always been a three-star U.S. general who reported to the secretary of state and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • The coordinator's senior rank allows direct access to the top military and political echelons in the U.S., Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
  • The security coordinator team also includes military experts from eight different NATO countries.

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