U.S. House aid bill could punish P.A.

WASHINGTON, June 28 (JTA) — Under a new measure weaving its way through Congress, President Bush soon may be forced to determine whether the Palestine Liberation Organization is complying with its requirement to combat terrorism.

The foreign aid package, currently being debated in the House, includes language that would require the president to make a declaration about how well the Palestinian Authority is complying with its peace agreements with Israel, and possibly impose sanctions on the PLO.

Because the language is included in the foreign aid proposal, it has a much better chance of becoming law than similar efforts earlier this year.

“We put in very strong language that sends a very clear message” to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). “We feel that this language was exactly what was needed.”

Lowey, the ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee’s foreign operations subcommittee, said the effort has bi-partisan support.

Under the plan, the State Department would analyze every six months whether Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are in compliance with the Oslo agreement signed in 1993, which calls on the PLO to renounce violence and terrorism.

If the president determines that the Palestinians are not upholding their obligations, he could either shut down the PLO’s Washington office, cut funding to Palestinian-controlled areas or include PLO groups on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The language also includes a national security waiver, allowing the president to avoid imposing sanctions even if he determines that the Palestinians are violating Oslo. Similar waivers have been used to avoid enforcing other acts to strengthen the U.S. relationship with Israel — such as moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The foreign operations bill is expected to have strong support as it goes through Congress. To kill the PLO amendment, a representative would have to offer an amendment specifically against that provision, an unlikely scenario.

The bill could be challenged in the conference committee when the disparities between House and Senate versions of the foreign aid bill are reconciled. Lowey said she was confident the measure against the Palestinians would stand, however.

Under current law, the State Department is required to document terrorist activities in Palestinian areas every six months, but that report does not analyze whether or not the Palestinian Authority is effectively combating terrorism, the key component of the new law.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) proposed essentially the same bill last month, but — unlike the amendment to the foreign aid bill — his plan would need to pass Congress independently. On Thursday, Ackerman lauded the language in the foreign aid bill.

Lowey said she is not concerned about imposing sanctions on the Palestinian Authority while the United States is serving as a mediator for the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.

“We felt very strongly that he had to send a signal to Chairman Arafat,” she said. “The continuation of violence and terrorism is unacceptable.”

The foreign operations legislation also included language that would deny funding to the International Red Cross unless the organization recognizes the Magen David Adom, an Israeli humanitarian organization that has been denied admission to the international group since 1949.

The foreign aid package includes the full aid proposed by the Bush administration for Israel — $2.04 billion for military aid and $720 million for economic needs. That allotment is consistent with Israel’s request to add $60 million in military aid and eliminate $120 million for economic aid each year.

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