WASHINGTON (Jun. 7)
While State Department officials are insisting they are still considering an $800 million supplemental aid package to Israel, the chance of Israel’s seeing the money this year seems unlikely, according to a U.S. official familiar with the situation.
Calling the aid package “dead” for this year, the official said the government’s comments to the contrary are a “stall tactic.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the government official said the Bush administration is uncomfortable with providing an additional aid package to Israel while trying to broker an end to violence in the region.
The administration is also wary of the potential fallout among U.S. Jewish leaders if it announces that it is withholding the aid, the official said. As a result, administration officials are still sending optimistic signals about the package.
Israel and its U.S. allies have been lobbying heavily for the aid since it was first proposed last year.
The aid package, originally requested by President Clinton and Israel during the last Congress, was initiated to assist Israel with its withdrawal last year from southern Lebanon.
The aid — which was to be divided between $450 million the first year and $350 million at a later date — was also intended to aid Israel’s military in combating long-range missiles threats from Iran and Iraq.
Congress did not act on the measure last year, choosing to wait until after the presidential elections.
Last Friday, Bush sent his supplemental aid request to Congress. The request, which mainly sought additional funds for the U.S. Defense Department, did not seek any funds for Israel.
The White House and its Office of Management and Budget refused to comment on the aid to Israel, directing inquiries to the State Department.
A State Department spokesman said Thursday that the supplemental aid package is “still breathing” but acknowledged that there are no funds for it remaining in this year’s budget.
Nonetheless, the spokesman told JTA, “We are still looking at ways” to give Israel the aid this year.
During a White House meeting with Jewish leaders last week, a senior administration official reportedly told visiting Israeli President Moshe Katsav that “a deal is a deal, and we are going to honor it.”
U.S. Jewish leaders said they do not want to let the Bush administration renege.
“We expect that this is a promise that will be honored,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who met with Bush and Katsav on May 31.
“Not because they want to, but because they know they have to.”
Lawmakers are expected to make a push to move funds around to give Israel aid, and it is unclear whether that will have support from the Bush administration.
An Israeli official in Washington said he did not believe the door is completely shut.
“We are working with the administration to see if we can make this happen,” the official said.