WASHINGTON (Jun. 22)
Jewish groups and members of Congress are seeking to squelch the possibility that U.S. aid to Palestinians could be dispensed from eastern Jerusalem.
The United States will decide in the coming weeks where to open an Agency for International Development office that will be responsible for dispensing up to $78 million for infrastructure and other developmental assistance to the newly autonomous Gaza Strip and Jericho district.
Widespread rumors continue to circulate around Washington that the State Department is considering an eastern Jerusalem location for this effort, perhaps at the U.S. Consulate there.
Officials have refused to confirm or deny such reports. The official word is that State Department personnel are “still working on the administrative arrangements for an AID mission” and “hope to finalize some details in the very near future,” according to a spokesperson.
But some members of Congress and many Jewish leaders fear that an AID office in eastern Jerusalem would buttress Palestinian claims to Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. They are consequently trying to nip in the bud any notion of a site there for the AID office.
“This proposal only serves to prejudge the future status of Jerusalem by drawing a political connection between Jerusalem and the self-rule regions,” Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a joint statement this week.
Israeli Embassy officials refused to comment on the AID controversy but privately have said all countries wanting to deal with the Palestinian authority were being told they would have to do so in Jericho and Gaza.
AID OFFICE SITE CAUSED ‘DEEP DISQUIET’
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee issued a statement concerning the flap about the AID office saying, “AIPAC is unequivocally opposed to any action that would have a negative impact on or erode Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s undivided capital.”
In a letter to President Clinton, Seymour Reich, president of the American Zionist Movement, expressed his opposition to an AID office in Jerusalem: “The idea of an office in East Jerusalem for aid to Jericho raises serious questions and deep disquiet about American policy in the region.”
Gail Pressberg, co-director of the Washington office of Americans for Peace Now, disagreed with the assertion that an AID office in eastern Jerusalem would affect final-status talks.
“The location in and of itself does not set precedent. Where the office is says nothing about U.S. policy on Jerusalem. The policy is set in the White House and in Congress,” she said.
She added the issue “has been made from a mole hill into a mountain.”
Under the declaration of principles signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization last fall, the fate of Jerusalem is reserved for final-status negotiations that are at least two years away.
But the highly sensitive issue has come to the fore recently, especially since a speech given last month by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in which he called for a “jihad” for Jerusalem.