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Congress Pushes for More Aid for Israel — and the Palestinians

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Congress is poised to provide $200 million in additional aid to Israel, as well as $50 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

On May 9, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the emergency counterterrorism spending bill proposed by President Bush that would provide the additional aid.

The bill was expected to pass the full House this week.

The additional $200 million is the second strong sentiment of support for Israel to emanate from Congress in as many weeks. Both houses of Congress recently passed resolutions expressing solidarity with the Jewish state.

Congress is stressing support for Israel in an attempt to counter what many representatives see as growing support for the Palestinians in the Arab world and in Europe — and out of a concern that Arab pressure may be shifting U.S. policy on the Middle East toward the Palestinians.

The Bush administration had been reluctant to allow additional aid to Israel, but acquiesced after it became clear the bill would likely pass over White House objections.

“Clearly, the president has supported and does support aid for Israel,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. “We’re taking a look at the exact emergency nature of this proposal, given the fact that this particular piece of legislation is emergency legislation.”

DeLay, whose position as House majority whip gives him wide control over the legislative agenda, has long expressed support for the Jewish state based on his own religious beliefs.

The supplemental aid bill is considered likely to become law because it also provides important funds for the war in Afghanistan and homeland security.

The Senate is expected to take up the version of the supplemental bill that passes the House after the Memorial Day recess.

The Palestinian money was considered a deal sweetener for the Bush administration, which has stressed in recent weeks the need to spend more resources to revive the Palestinian security and economic infrastructure.

Israel has been seeking additional funds for several years. While it currently receives $3 billion a year through the foreign operations appropriation process, it has been advocating for an additional $800 million promised by President Clinton to aid Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

Congress originally chose to wait until after the 2000 presidential elections before taking up the matter, and President Bush has not pushed the issue since taking office.

Sources said that after the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent war on terrorism, Israel has realized that the $800 million is no longer a U.S. priority and has stopped lobbying for it.

Bush also has been hesitant to give additional aid to Israel out of concern the move would be viewed internationally as a clear sign of siding with the Israelis in the Middle East conflict.

The $50 million earmarked for the Palestinians will not be given directly to the Palestinian Authority, but will instead be controlled by the United States Agency for International Development.

The Palestinians annually receive $75 million in humanitarian aid, also largely run through USAID. Last month, Secretary of State Colin Powell offered an additional $30 million at an international donors conference in Oslo.

But increases in humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories have been advocated by Israel, the Arab world and the international community.

Israel may also be receiving a boost to its Arrow missile project.

A $70 million increase in funding for the defense system was added to the 2003 Defense Department budget, which the House passed last Friday.

The Arrow project, a joint U.S.-Israeli endeavor, uses missiles to target and destroy incoming missiles.

Israeli military experts have cited their country’s need for a dependable anti-missile system. Their arguments found added strength after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Iraqi Scud missiles struck Israeli cities.

The American-built Patriot missiles used at the time have been widely criticized as flawed and ineffective.

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