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Israel Welcomes Senate Proposal Making PLO Aid Conditioned on Covenant Change

The Israeli government and American Jewish groups have welcomed a move afoot in the Senate to withhold U.S. aid to the Palestinians until the Palestine Liberation Organization amends its covenant eliminating calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.

Israeli Embassy officials here have expressed support for the move, but cautioned that the Palestinian National Authority in Gaza and Jericho still needs foreign assistance to govern effectively.

“Any steps that would help the Palestinian authority comply with their commitments by letter and by spirit would be welcome,” an Israeli Embassy official said. “But we need to balance this concern with the need for the Palestinian Authority to get funds.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) was expected to introduce an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill when the full Senate debated the bill this week. Jewish lobbyists and Capitol Hill staffers expected no serious opposition during the floor debate.

The measure adds teeth to existing laws that mandate PLO compliance with peace agreement with Israel in order to receive U.S. foreign aid. The Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill proposes $78 million in aid to the PLO.

Sens. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.), Richard Shelby ( D-Ala.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) agreed to co-sponsor Specter’s proposal. Specter and Shelby are co-chairs of the Senate Peace Accord Monitoring Group, set up recently to monitor PLO compliance with the peace accords with Israel.

On the eve of the Senate debate, intense negotiations between Specter’s office and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had not yet resolved disputes over the amendment’s language.

Among the most contentious points of dis agreement was how long to give the PLO to amend its covenant.

Currently, the administration must certity PLO compliance with the peace accords every six months.

Specter’s amendment will grant the PLO either six months or one year to comply with its agreement with Israel to delete all references in its covenant that call for the destruction of the State of Israel.

At a meeting in Paris last week, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin he will convene the Palestine National Council “in the coming months” for a vote to amend the covenant.

Khalil Foutah, deputy director of the PLO’s Washington office, said this week, “What Arafat said in Paris still stands and the American Congress should not interfere.”

Specter’s amendment, part of an ongoing effort in Congress to ensure PLO compliance with peace agreements with Israel, drew praise from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

According to an AIPAC official, the organization is supporting the Specter initiative “because it requires the PLO to comply with commitments the PLO has made repeatedly during the past year and because repealing this language would enhance progress in the peace process.”

Jess Hordes, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League, also welcomed the proposed legislation. “The amendment doesn’t up the ante beyond what Arafat has promised to do, but provides an important incentive,” he said.

Specter’s amendment also removes language in the proposed bill that would allow the President to waive PLO compliance regulations and dispense funds to the organization if it is the best national interest.

The amendment also enables Congress to override a presidential determination that the PLO is in compliance if the legislative body makes a different determination.

White House officials have voiced concerns over those portions of the amendment limiting presidential authority.

When the bill comes up for floor debate, D’Amato was also considering introducing a controversial amendment seeking to impose burdensome restrictions for deploying U.S. troops on the Golan Heights as part of any future Israeli-Syrian peace agreement.

Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly defeated a similar proposal sponsored by Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) that analysts say could derail any future Israeli-Syria accord.

The amendment seeks to prevent the Defense Department from spending any money on a Golan Heights U.S. peacekeeping mission until Congress accepts a detailed report on a potential deployment and its limitations.

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