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Additional U.S. aid to Israel requested

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (JTA) – Amid politically volatile situations in Israel and the United States, the White House is asking Congress to support an additional aid package to Israel worth $450 million.

Under different circumstances, the request, mainly intended to assist Israel with the financial burden associated with its withdrawal from Lebanon over the summer, might have been routine.

But depending on who becomes the next U.S. president and the status of the crisis in the Middle East, the aid package might get more scrutiny when Congress reconvenes for a lame-duck session in December.

Although Congress has decided to delay finishing up its legislative work until after Thanksgiving, the Clinton administration made the request this week to lawmakers.

The package also includes an additional $225 million in military funds for Egypt, and $25 million in military funds and $50 million in economic funds for Jordan.

The request for supplemental aid to Israel has been in the works for many months. It is separate from the $3 billion in aid to Israel, including $1.98 billion in military and $840 million in economic funds, that Congress approved last month as part of the $14.9 billion foreign operations bill.

But beyond the annual aid package, President Clinton is, according to administration officials, intent on making good on a promise to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who wants to have something to show for his peacemaking efforts, especially given his unstable government.

The suppemental package includes $200 million in military funds for Israel as well as $250 million to help defray the costs of the withdrawal from Lebanon.

With the peace process in tatters and violence continuing in Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the package seems like something of a consolation prize for Israel.

The aid to Egypt and Jordan, countries that have formal peace treaties with Israel, is intended as a nod to two countries that have been supportive of the peace process. The aid is also perhaps meant to shore up the United States’ image as an “honest broker” in the Middle East, according to sources close to the process.

There is no money in the additional package for the Palestinians. The foreign aid bill passed by Congress last month includes approximately $100 million in primarily humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, administered through nongovernmental organizations.

Just how much the American election affects this and any other request from the administration remains to be seen.

The request also includes suggested additional aid for 2002. Under that proposal, Israel would receive $350 million in military funding targeted at improving anti-ballistic missile efforts, including further development of the Arrow missile program. It also suggests about $150 million in additional funds to be distributed among Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians.

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