WASHINGTON (Mar. 8)
U.S. aid to Israel and the Palestinian Authority promised during last October’s Wye peace talks is intrinsically linked and must move forward as one package, according to a senior State Department official.
Responding to Israeli concerns that the United States was preparing to deliver money to the Palestinians but not to the Israelis, Stuart Eizenstat, the U.S. undersecretary of state for economics, said Monday that the aid packages are “locked at the hip.”
Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Eizenstat called a recent report in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz “grossly inaccurate” and “literally 180 degrees off.”
The newspaper reported that during meetings in Israel last week, Eizenstat told the Israelis that the United States would delay $1.2 billion promised over three years to Israel, while the Palestinians would begin to receive $400 million promised over three years.
The paper said the distinction was being made because the Palestinians had carried out their obligations under the Wye peace agreement, while the Israelis had not.
The Wye agreement stipulated further Israeli redeployments from the West Bank according to a specific timetable that coincided with specific Palestinian steps to crack down on terrorism.
In the wake of the Ha’aretz report, Israeli officials accused the United States of meddling in Israel’s election campaign by implying that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s peace policies were costing the Jewish state $1.2 billion in aid.
Seeking to knock down the report, Eizenstat said, “We consider the Palestinian and Israeli package to be part of one pledge that will move together.”
When pressed whether the aid would be delivered together or simply passed by Congress together, Eizenstat said, “As a practical matter, just like the Israeli and Palestinian economics are locked at the hip, so too is this aid package.”
The aid, however, remains contingent on the implementation of the Wye agreement, other U.S. officials said.
“We believe there will be implementation on both sides and aid will go forward under these circumstances,” Eizenstat said.
The latest flare-up is the second time that Israel and the United States have locked horns over this specific aid package, which goes beyond the normal foreign aid package.
After initial concerns that U.S. aid would go to beef up security for West Bank settlements, the Clinton and Netanyahu administrations carefully negotiated a detailed plan to spend the money on the direct costs of Israel’s promised redeployments in the West Bank.
The debate came as a Senate committee last week agreed to provide an immediate $100 million to Jordan, also promised at the Wye talks. Under the plan, Jordan would receive a total of $300 million over three years.
Eizenstat said he sought to reassure Arens that the Jordan portion of the supplemental aid package was expedited because of economic urgencies in the wake of King Hussein’s death.
Meanwhile, the request for Israeli and Palestinian aid is bogged down in Congress over disagreement about how to pay for the aid, which is in addition to the almost $3 billion annual foreign aid package to Israel and the $100 million for the Palestinians.
Under budget rules agreed to by Congress and the White House, all new spending must be offset by cuts in other programs or by tax increases.
Congressional and administration officials are currently working on a plan to identify potential cuts that would not involve tax increases, congressional and administration officials said.
Late last week, 76 members of the House of Representatives and 50 senators sent letters to President Clinton supporting the Wye aid package in spite of the difficulty finding the resources to pay for it.
“Although we understand the constraints on the budget, we believe fulfilling our commitments made at Wye must be among our highest priorities,” the House members wrote.
Expressing similar sentiments, the senators wrote, “The Wye aid package should be provided as promised, with both parties fulfilling their commitments made at Wye.”
In the meantime, the State Department is continuing to work with the Israelis and Palestinians to put the peace process back on track.
“It’s difficult for the economic side of the process to get in front of the political side,” Eizenstat said.