WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (JTA) — Congress may hope to penalize the Palestinian Authority for its failure to curb terrorism, but humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people remains intact in America´s foreign aid bill. The House passed the Foreign Operations Appropriation bill Wednesday evening by a 357 to 66 vote. CThe Senate approved it by unanimous consent on Thursday. The United States is expected to send $75 million to the Palestinians. That would be distributed through the United States Agency for International Development, and no money would go directly to the Palestinian Authority. While many pieces of legislation have threatened to block economic aid from going to the Palestinian Authority, none of the bills targets the aid designed to improve Palestinian infrastructure and environment. "What we are trying to do is not cut off needed services for the" Palestinian people, "when they are not the ones anyone wants to target," an official with a Jewish organization said. The $15.6 billion foreign aid bill provides $2.7 billion in economic and military aid to Israel and close to $2 billion for Egypt. The bill did not please Sen. Robert Byrd (D.-W. Va.), chair of the Senate´s Appropriations Committee, who said the U.S. should "use foreign aid as a tool to leverage peace" between Israelis and Palestinians. The bill "ignores" Mideast violence and is a "tacit acknowledgment" that the United States can not end the violence in the region, Byrd said. Yet he said he would not object to the bill. The bill includes a provision urging President Bush to review Palestinian Authority compliance with its peace agreements with Israel. The bill also suggests the president should impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and its president, Yasser Arafat, if he does not rein in Palestinian violence. That language is a compromise worked out after Sept. 11, when Bush administration officials asked Senate leaders to eliminate binding language that would force the president to assess Palestinian compliance and impose sanctions. The language had passed the House and had strong support in the Senate. However, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged lawmakers to abandon it after the Sept. 11 attacks, saying it was "counterproductive" to the government´s efforts to woo Arab states for a coalition against terrorism. The language ultimately was changed in conference committee. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said she preferred the House´s original binding resolution. "The events of recent weeks have made it obvious why Arafat must know that, if he reneges on his commitments, his relationship with the United States will suffer," Lowey said on the House floor Wednesday. "I do believe the language in this conference agreement expresses the clear will of Congress on this matter, and I have already urged the President to comply." Congress passed a similar measure earlier this month in the wake of suicide attacks in Israel, calling on President Bush to suspend relations with Arafat unless there is a concerted effort to fight terrorism. That legislation also was non-binding. Under the aid bill, Israel will receive the full amount requested from the Bush administration — $2.04 billion for military aid and $720 million for economic needs. That allotment is consistent with a plan to increase military aid to Israel by $60 million and cut economic aid by $120 million in each of the next 10 years. The bill does not include $800 million in supplemental aid the United States promised after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000. The foreign operations legislation also included language that would deny funding to the International Red Cross unless it recognizes its Israeli counterpart, Magen David Adom. Israel´s humanitarian relief movement uses a red Star of David as its symbol. It is barred from the Red Cross movement — which currently recognizes only the cross, crescent and Persian emblems — because of pressure from Arab and Muslim states.
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JTA Staff This article was posted by JTA staff.