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U.S. Congress Approves Aid to Israel; Move Sends ‘clear Message’ to World

In one of this session’s final acts, the U.S. Congress this week demonstrated its support for Israel with words — and money.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed a $14.9 billion foreign aid bill late Wednesday afternoon, including nearly $3 billion in aid to Israel. The moneys include $1.98 billion in military and $840 million in economic funds for Israel.

In a separate act, the House also passed a resolution blaming Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for the violence engulfing the Middle East.

The bipartisan resolution, which passed 365-30, condemns the Palestinian leadership for encouraging violence and doing little to stop it, calls upon the Palestinian leadership to refrain from public incitement and urges it to vigorously use its security forces to stop all violence.

The aid to Israel passed in the final version of the foreign spending bill was to be distributed as a lump sum when the U.S. fiscal year starts in October. Since the bill was held up, the aid would presumably be disbursed after it passes.

As part of a plan worked out with Israel to end economic assistance by the year 2009, the military aid was increased $60 million from last year while the economic aid was decreased by $120 million.

At the end of the process, military aid to Israel is expected to total $2.4 billion. Economic aid to Israel, which once amounted to $1.2 billion annually, will no longer exist.

The foreign aid bill, which passed 307-101 in the House and 65-27 in the Senate, also includes $1.3 billion for military aid and $695 million for economic aid to Egypt, $225 million for Jordan and approximately $100 million for the Palestinians.

Last-minute efforts in the House to decrease aid to the Palestinians because of the violence in the Middle East failed.

Some lawmakers wanted to cut non- humanitarian aid — about one-third of the $100 million — to the Palestinians. The aid to Palestinians goes through programs administered by non-governmental organizations monitored by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Senators are still working on legislation that would block all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority if Arafat follows up on his promise to declare a Palestinian state unilaterally. The House already passed a similar bill.

Jewish groups finally breathed a sigh of relief as the aid to Israel was approved. Although the aid package was no longer under direct attack, the road to the bill’s passage was a rocky one.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, called the aid package to Israel “incredibly significant.”

Coming at a “critical time like this,” said Kenneth Bricker, AIPAC spokesman, it “sends a clear and unambiguous message to the world. The U.N. can pass as many biased, one-sided resolutions as it wants. The U.S. stands with Israel.”

Ever since the planned Israeli sale of an airborne early warning system to China became an issue earlier this year, there had been rumblings in Congress about placing some restrictions on aid.

Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, had led the charge for punitive measures against Israel unless it canceled the Phalcon deal, threatening to cut $250 million from the aid package and arguing against early disbursal of U.S. assistance.

The Clinton administration voiced its concerns over the deal a number of times but said linking the issue to U.S. aid was inappropriate. Israel ultimately canceled the deal.

Last year, the annual aid to Israel also came under fire, and Jewish organizations had to fight for $1.8 billion in special funding for the Wye agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The foreign aid bill had been held up over debt relief for Third World countries and a ban on U.S. aid for overseas family planning groups that advocate or participate in abortions. Compromises were reached on both issues.

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