Obama signs free-trade bill into law; U.S. Department rejects anti-BDS amendments

United States president Barack Obama signed the Trade Promotion Authority bill into law Monday, a measure with the aim of fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement, which contains two amendments in the bill combatting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in relation to European countries.

The anti-BDS provisions would require US negotiators to make rejection of the BDS campaign a principal objective in negotiations with the European Union, by leveraging the incentive of free trade with the United States, reports Haaretz.  Specifically, the amendment mentions “politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel and to seek the elimination of politically motivated nontariff barriers on Israeli goods, services, or other commerce imposed on the State of Israel.”

It clarifies: “‘Actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel’ [are] actions… intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories.”

The legislation therefore effectively condones the continued economic growth and existence of “Israeli-controlled territories,” or Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law.

“This is an historic milestone in the fight against Israel’s enemies, as American opposition to insidious efforts to demonize and isolate the Jewish state is now the law of the land. The bipartisan bill enacted today conditions any free trade agreement with the European Union on its rejection of BDS,” said Rep. Peter Roskam, who, together with Rep. Juan Vargas sponsored one of two anti-BDS provisions in the law.

On Tuesday afternoon the State Department Press Office issued a statement regarding the measure, clarifying that while U.S. policy “strongly opposes boycott, divestment, or sanctions targeting the State of Israel,” the same rhetoric is not applied regarding “Israeli-controlled territories”.

The anti-BDS provision of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation, continues the Department of State, “runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy towards the occupied territories, including with regard to settlement activity.”

It goes on to point out that the “U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them and, by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.”

The provisions were originally presented as a bipartisan bill sponsored by Congressmen Peter Roskam and  Juan Vargas but eventually consolidated into the trade measure. 

It is unclear how current U.S. policy toward Israeli settlements will affect the approved legislature.