Foreign Aid Bill Contains Benefits for Israel, and Even More for Egypt

The 1991 foreign aid bill, which gained final approval over the weekend in the Senate and House of Representatives, for the first time contains greater monetary benefits for Egypt than for Israel.

It also does not include an amendment contained in the Senate version of the bill that would have barred any U.S. contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The language was stricken in House-Senate negotiations primarily because lawmakers argued it would have been perceived by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as a sign of U.S. hostility toward the Arab world.

But milder language from previous foreign aid bills was approved, which bars the United States from recognizing or negotiating with the PLO “as long as the PLO does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

As it wrapped up its legislative business, Congress also decided not to block a sale of $7.3 billion in advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia.

Pro-Israel activists expect the Bush administration to propose as much as $14 billion in additional arms sales to the Saudis, including F-15 fighter planes, after the new Congress convenes early next year.

To partially offset those sales, the administration has indicated in recent weeks that it will soon send Israel 15 F-15s, 10 CH-53 helicopters and two Patriot missile batteries.

The House of Representatives adopted the foreign aid bill in its final form by a vote of 187-162, and the Senate did so on a voice vote.

President Bush on Sunday stated his intention to sign the foreign aid bill into law, though he is unhappy about the sharp reduction in military aid to El Salvador.

DEBT FORGIVENESS FOR EGYPT

The bill contains $3 billion in all-grant aid to Israel and $2.3 billion in aid to Egypt, the same amounts the two countries have received for the last several years. But the bill also forgives Egypt’s $6.7 billion debt to the United States, without extending that benefit to Israel.

The debt forgiveness is intended as a gesture of appreciation for Egypt’s leadership in the U.S.-led initiative against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Egypt’s fragile economy has been badly hurt by its support of the economic sanctions against Baghdad.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee did not stake out a position on relieving Egypt’s debt, although it wanted Israel to receive similar treatment.

There are new perks for the Jewish state, however. The bill allows Israel to transfer $200 million of its $1.2 billion in economic assistance to the $1.8 billion military aid package it receives.

Israel is also designated to receive $700 million in excess U.S. weaponry being “drawn down” from Western Europe and to have its stockpile of U.S. munitions doubled from $100 million to $200 million.

Mark Pelavin, Washington representative of the American Jewish Congress, voiced satisfaction with the House vote, saying, “People’s worst fears weren’t realized.”

“There was a great deal of concern whether people were going to be willing to vote for foreign aid in a year in which the budgetary pressures are so great,” Pelavin added.

A pro-Israel lobbyist argued that the closeness of the vote “reflects the concern over the Egyptian debt forgiveness.” But it was unclear how inclusion of a similar provision for Israel’s $3.7 billion U.S. military debt might have affected the outcome of the vote on the bill.

FUNDING FOR 40,000 JEWISH REFUGEES

The foreign aid bill also contains enough funds to bring 40,000 Soviet Jews to the United States, and the health and human services spending bill contains $39 million in funding for domestic resettlement.

More than $34 million of those funds will go to the 40,000 Jewish refugees, as long as Jewish community federations agree to match the amount dollar for dollar.

The foreign aid bill also directs the Immigration and Naturalization Service to grant Soviet Jews and other minorities a presumption of eligibility for refugee status for the next two years, on the basis that they still face a “well-founded fear of persecution.”

In other legislative action, Congress adopted the 1991 defense appropriations bill, which allows the United States to spend as much as $50 million on its joint anti-tactical missile program with Israel, which is entering the second phase of development.

The defense bill also calls for the United States to place 4.5 million barrels of oil in Israel, which the president could certify for Israeli use at any time.

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