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Mepfa Takes Leap Forward with Senate Subcommittee Vote

The Senate is on the brink of passing a long-term extension of the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act, which allows U.S. foreign aid to go to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations included the measure in its $12 billion foreign aid bill on Tuesday by a unanimous voice vote.

The roller coaster ride that has marked the history of the legislation could come to an end as early as next week, when the full Senate is expected to vote on the measure.

Authored by Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), the measure extends waivers that allow diplomatic contact with and aid to the PLO for an additional 18 months.

Congress has granted two 45-day extensions for the measure since it initially expired June 30. If approved, the measure would then go before a House and Senate conference committee to iron out differences between the chamber’s foreign aid bills.

The House version of the foreign aid bill, which passed earlier this year, does not include any reference to the PLO waivers. But under congressional procedures, the House would be able to include the waiver in foreign aid legislation without a prior vote on the issue.

The foreign aid bill making its way through the Senate – and already passed in the House – includes $3 billion in foreign aid for Israel and an additional $80 million to assist the Jewish state in the resettlement of Soviet Jews.

The measure also includes $2.1 billion in aid for Egypt and $100 million for the Palestinians, which the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act enables them to receive.

The current proposal differs from the original legislation passed two years ago after the historic signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the PLO in that it tightens the restrictions and requires greater compliance on the part of the PLO.

Like the old legislation, the new version requires the president to certify that the PLO is complying with its accords with Israel. And the president must continue to submit compliance reports to Congress every six months in order for the Palestinians to receive U.S. foreign aid.

Under the new legislation, however, in order for the president to certify compliance, the PLO must have taken the following steps: * established a judicial system; * cooperated with Israel to pre-empt terrorism; * and disarmed civilians not licensed to carry weapons.

As for the controversial item relating to the PLO’s National Covenant, which calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, the new measure would not require the Palestine National Council to amend the covenant until a Palestinian is seated after elections in the territories.

Most major Jewish organizations have supported the measure, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council. The Israeli government has also supported its passage.

The Zionist Organization of America, which favors completely cutting off aid to the PLO, led the unsuccessful charge against the measure.

ZOA President Morton Klein was lobbying senators this week to oppose the measure when the bill comes up for a floor vote.

NJCRAC welcomed the subcommittee’s action.

“We hope that action will be taken on it expeditiously by the full committee and on the Senate floor,” said Martin Raffel, NJCRAC’s associate executive vice chairman.

Meanwhile, every member of Congress received a letter signed by 1,000 rabbis from across the religious spectrum this week, urging support of the peace process and the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act.

The measure “has been an important and effective diplomatic tool for moving the peace process forward” and “a key element in the fight against terror,” the rabbis from 47 states and the District of Columbia wrote.

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