Foreign Aid Bill Clears House-senate Conference

Israel’s annual package of $3 billion in U.S. aid moved one step closer to congressional passage, as a House-Senate conference committee voted Tuesday to retain the provision in the 1994 foreign aid bill.

Both chambers of Congress were expected to pass the final version of the bill by Thursday.

Pro-Israel forces are relieved that in a time of economic shortages, Congress has supported maintaining the level of aid Israel has received since the mid-1980s. Israel remains the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

The conference committee, which met Monday night into early Tuesday morning, agreed to earmark $3 billion in aid for Israel and an additional $80 million in aid to Israel for absorption of refugees from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

In addition, the House-Senate bill includes provisions making Israel’s aid available no later than Oct. 31 and barring U.S. funds to international financial organizations that support terrorist groups.

The bill also includes language stating that the United States will consider a country’s participation in the Arab boycott against Israel before selling the country arms, and that the United States should urge Syria to allow its Jewish community to emigrate freely.

“This conference was a significant victory,” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), a pro-Israel member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, said in a statement Tuesday.

“U.S. aid for Israel has never been more important,” Lowey added, citing the ongoing Middle East peace process.

BILL WOULD EASE PLO RESTRICTIONS

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation Tuesday that would waive certain prohibitions on U.S. dealings with the Palestine Liberation Organization for a three-month period.

Since Israel signed its historic agreement with the PLO on Sept. 13, the Clinton administration has been urging Congress to modify certain laws that the administration thinks could hamper implementation of the accord.

Because of the PLO’s longtime ties to terrorism, Congress has enacted a series of laws over the years barring various activities related to the PLO.

The Senate legislation would waive some restrictions on U.S. funding for international organizations that assist the PLO and would also waive a provision barring the PLO from establishing an office here.

These waivers would remain in effect only until Jan. 1, at which point they could be renewed, provided that the PLO abides by its commitments to recognize Israel and renounce violence, and that the president consults with Congress and certifies that the laws are in the national interest.

Similar legislation dealing with funding for international organizations was passed in the House-Senate conference bill, but this Senate Foreign Relations bill is a separate piece of legislation. The House would have to pass a similar measure for the provisions to take effect.

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