State Dept: Trade bill can't defend Israel's territories

AP News
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Posted: Jun 30, 2015 5:40 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — One day after President Barack Obama signed hard-fought trade legislation, his administration took issue with language meant to discourage boycotts of Israel.

The "fast track" trade bill takes aim at international efforts to punish Israel economically for its treatment of Palestinians.

A bipartisan amendment — which drew comparatively little attention in Congress' long, multi-faceted trade debate — instructs U.S. negotiators to resist other countries' actions that support the "boycott, divestment and sanctions" movement against Israel because of its policies in "Israeli-controlled territories."

Several pro-Israel groups and lawmakers backed the amendment.

But the State Department said Tuesday that "by conflating Israel and 'Israeli-controlled territories,'" the amendment "runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy" toward the disputed territories claimed by Palestinians.

The statement, by spokesman John Kirby, said U.S. policy has "strongly opposed boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel, and will continue to do so." But Kirby said Democratic and Republican presidents have consistently opposed Israeli settlements that violated borders drawn in 1967.

Kirby said the government "does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them."

A spokeswoman for Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, a key sponsor of the amendment, said it was never intended to make a judgment on the Israeli settlements.

The fast track bill will allow Obama to present proposed trade deals that Congress can ratify or reject, but not change.