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Congress moves to reduce Israel aid in plan worked out with Jewish state

WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 (JTA) — Congress is on its way to reducing foreign aid to Israel for the second year in a row. The cut is part of a plan worked out with the Jewish state to end economic aid by the year 2009. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 385-35 on Tuesday for a $12.6 billion foreign aid bill, which includes $2.88 billion for Israel, $2 billion for Egypt and $325 million for Jordan. As has been the case in the past, aid to the Palestinians was not specified in the bill but is expected to continue at about $100 million a year. The Senate passed a similar bill June 30 by a 97-2 vote. Members of the House and Senate will meet in the coming weeks to hammer out differences between their measures, which will fund U.S. foreign operations for the fiscal year 2000 that begins Oct. 1. The measure could draw a presidential veto because it restricts funding for groups that work in other countries to liberalize abortion laws. Clinton has also threatened a veto because the bill cuts this year’s foreign spending by $715 million and is almost $2 billion less than his request for next year. Even with a veto, however, the foreign aid package would be passed as part of other legislation. The money in the bill for Israel follows through on a deal with the Jewish state to reduce its dependence on U.S. economic aid while increasing military assistance. The agreement, which President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak put into writing last month, phases out economic aid to Israel over a 10-year period by reducing the assistance by $120 million a year. At the same time, military aid will increase by $60 million a year. At the end of the process, military aid to Israel will total $2.4 billion, up from $1.8 billion before the plan went into effect last year. Economic aid to Israel, which amounted to $1.2 billion annually, will no longer exist. The previous economic package was designed to pay off loans provided to Israel after the 1979 Camp David accord. By the end of the 10-year period, those loans will be repaid. In this year’s foreign aid bill, Israel would receive $960 million in economic aid and $1.92 billion in military assistance. The bill also includes $60 million to aid Israel in resettling Jews from the former Soviet Union. As in previous years, the House included a measure known as early disbursal, under which aid to Israel is delivered at the beginning of the fiscal year. In addition to aid to Middle Eastern countries, the bill includes $725 million for former Soviet states, down $76 million. Under U.S. law, Russia cannot receive some of its designated aid if it follows through on a promise to provide $2 billion in arms sales to Syria, which remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. The House foreign aid bill also contains policy recommendations on a host of issues that affect the Middle East, including: * a requirement that the secretary of state report by Feb. 1, 2000, on State Department efforts to remove anti-Semitic textbooks from schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees; * a ban on spending money to create a new office or agency to conduct official business with the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem. All U.S. business with the Palestinian Authority should continue to take place in locations other than Jerusalem, except for social contacts and incidental discussions; * a measure allowing the president to provide assistance to the Palestinian Authority if he certifies in writing to Congress that such aid is important to the national security interests of the United States. Currently all U.S. aid to the Palestinians is provided to non-governmental agencies; and * a ban on all assistance to the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, which has come under fire from Congress for anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli and anti-American programming.

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