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House foreign aid bill pressures Palestinians

WASHINGTON, July 25 (JTA) — The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved a $15.2 billion foreign aid bill that requires President Bush to assess the Palestinians’ efforts in combating terrorism and possibly impose sanctions.

The House passed the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act late Tuesday night by a vote of 381-46. The bill, which goes next to the Senate for approval, includes $2.7 billion in military and economic aid to Israel and $2 billion to Egypt.

The foreign aid bill 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 a plan to add $60 million in military aid and eliminate $120 million for economic aid to Israel each year.

The proposed law requires the State Department to analyze every six months whether the Palestinian Authority is in compliance with the Oslo agreement signed in 1993, which calls on the Palestinians to renounce violence and terrorism.

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

The United States is expected to send $125 million in aid this year to an international program that distributes funds to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The language also includes a national security waiver, allowing the president to avoid imposing sanctions even if he determines that the Palestinians are violating the Oslo accords.

There have been similar waivers that enable the president to avoid enforcing acts passed by Congress to strengthen the U.S. relationship with Israel — such as moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) proposed essentially the same bill on Palestinian compliance earlier this year, but — unlike the amendment to the foreign aid bill — his plan would need to pass Congress independently.

Ackerman lauded the provision in the foreign operations bill.

“Now, more than ever, the United States has to send a clear message to the Palestinian leadership that resorting to violence is absolutely unacceptable to our nation, and that continued pursuit of this bloody strategy will have a tangible negative effect on U.S. relations with the Palestinians,” the lawmaker said.

It is unclear whether the Palestinian compliance provision will be included in the Senate’s version of the foreign aid bill. If it is not, the provision could be debated in the conference committee when the disparities between House and Senate versions of the foreign aid bill are reconciled.

But the bill’s supporters say they are confident the measure will stand.

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

The House has in recent years taken strong pro-Israel stances. Members of the House International Relations Committee’s Middle East panel are expected to advocate a tougher stance against the Palestinians when William Burns, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, testifies there later this week.

The foreign operations legislation also included language that would deny funding to the International Red Cross unless the organization recognizes its Israeli counterpart, the Magen David Adom.

Israel’s humanitarian relief movement uses a red Star of David as its symbol and has been barred since 1949 from the Red Cross movement, which currently recognizes only the cross, crescent and Persian emblems.

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