US Senate Democrats have started a public feud with President Barack Obama over his decision to exclude provisions on Israeli settlements from a bill that punishes American companies contributing to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) against Israel.
The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, which was signed into law by Obama on February 11, aims to remove unfair barriers to competitive US trade.
Obama has decided not to implement provisions in the trade law that compel US negotiators to protect Israel from being punished economically for its treatment of Palestinians.
The White House censured the term “Israeli-controlled territories” in the bill, saying the language lumping Israel and the Palestinian territories together contradicts US policy toward the settlements.
“Certain provisions of this act, by conflating Israel and ‘Israeli-controlled territories,’ are contrary to longstanding bipartisan United States policy, including with regard to the treatment of settlements,” Obama said in a signing statement on Wednesday.
Obama said he intended to interpret the newly signed law “in a manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy.”
The president’s statement drew criticism from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats.
House Speaker Paul Ryan also slammed Obama and said Congress would use its power of oversight to make sure the provisions are applied.
“Only this administration would try not to enforce a trade enforcement law,” he said on Friday.
The senators said the provisions have been mischaracterized by the White House in a bid to make a US policy statement about Israeli settlements.
More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 illegal settlement colonies built since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds.
The United Nations and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured by Israel in a war in 1967 and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbids construction on occupied lands.