House to pressure Obama on Israel

The House this week is expected to pass legislation clarifying that Israel is a major strategic partner of the United States, and requiring the Obama administration to take more aggressive steps to ensure Israel's security. It also calls on the U.S. to include Israel in a visa waiver program, which would allow Israelis to travel to the United States without a visa.

The bill is being considered in the same week that President Obama is meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss a framework for a Middle East peace plan. That meeting takes place today in Washington.

Two weeks later, Obama will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the same topic.

The House is out today, but early this week, GOP leaders will call up the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, H.R 938. This is a bill that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) proposed a year ago in the face of what she said was a more dangerous security situation for Israel.

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"At a time when Israel faces a more precarious security situation than ever before, it is important for the United States to reaffirm its unwavering support and commitment to the unbreakable bond between our two great democracies," Ros-Lehtinen said last year about her bill.

"As we examine the regimes surrounding Israel, we see Iran's continued march toward nuclear weapons, the future stability of [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad's chemical weapons stockpile remains in serious doubt in Syria, and Egypt's [President Mohamed] Morsi is either unable or unwilling, to control the lawless Sinai," she added. "There couldn't be a more important time for the U.S. to remind the world that we will not sit idly by while these threats put in peril the very existence of our friend and democratic ally, the Jewish State of Israel."

Ros-Lehtinen's bill calls on the U.S. government to work with Israel to ensure it meets the conditions to become a Visa Waiver program country. That language would allow Israelis to travel to the U.S. without a visa.

This proposal is opposed by those who say Israel is prohibiting Muslim Americans from entering Israel, and that Israel should therefore not be granted flexibility on entry into the United States.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has said she is working on new language on a visa program for Israel to address these complaints. But so far, no new proposal has moved in the Senate.

The bill would also amend the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012 by requiring the President to help Israel address security threats, provide support for a missile defense system, support the Iron Dome defense system, and provide other military items. Under the 2012 law, it is only a sense of Congress that these steps should be taken.

The new bill requires the President to report on these efforts after 180 days.

Elsewhere, it authorizes cooperation between the two countries on transportation security, emergency services and explosives detection, and appropriates $1 million for each of these activities. It also calls for enhanced cooperation on cyber security, extends laws that allow the U.S. to provide support to Israel, and authorizes expedited licensing for the export of strategic items to Israel.

The second title of the bill extends and expands an energy cooperation program between the U.S. and Israel.

Before Monday's storm, the House was scheduled to consider the bill Tuesday, although that plan may change as GOP leaders reorganize the week.

Ros-Lehtinen, a senior member and former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has another piece of legislation up this week — a resolution supporting pro-democracy demonstrators in Venezuela.

— Julian Pecquet contributed

— This story was updated at 10:40 a.m.