Congress approves more Israel aid

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. ()

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. ()

WASHINGTON, July 24 (JTA) — Congress has granted an additional $200 million in aid to Israel as part of an emergency anti-terrorism spending bill. The bill, which also includes $50 million for humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday night by a vote of 397-32. On Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill, 92-7. President Bush is expected to sign the $28.9 billion spending bill. The White House had been concerned that the legislation had been bogged down by spending for lawmakers´ pet projects. Bush proposed a $27.1 billion bill in March, which did not include aid for the Middle East. The bill predominantly contains funds for homeland security, the war against Afghanistan and the rebuilding of infrastructure in New York damaged by the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Debate on supplemental aid for Israel began in April, when House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) promised additional aid for Israel in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The funding faced opposition from some lawmakers, who felt the United States should not be taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.) tried to get the Middle East funding removed from the bill, to no avail. The original amendment for additional Israeli aid was introduced by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), but was revised by Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) to include the Palestinian aid. The Palestinian money was considered a deal sweetener for the Bush administration, which has stressed the need to revive the Palestinians´ 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 requesting an additional $800 million that President Clinton promised 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 Bush has not pushed the issue since taking office. Since the Sept. 11 attacks and America´s subsequent war on terrorism, sources say, Israel has realized that the $800 million is no longer a U.S. priority, and has stopped advocating for it. The $50 million earmarked for the Palestinians will not be given directly to the Palestinian Authority, but instead controlled by the United States Agency for International Development, which contracts out humanitarian projects. The Palestinians receive $75 million annually in humanitarian aid, also through USAID. Secretary of State Colin Powell offered an additional $30 million in the spring at an international donors conference in Oslo. Some pro-Israel lawmakers have complained that any funds going to the West Bank and Gaza Strip either will wind up in the hands of the Palestinian Authority or will free up other funds that the authority can funnel into terrorism. But Israel, the Arab world and the international community have been urging an increase in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Israel also may receive a boost to two major defense projects it runs in conjunction with the United States. A Senate committee has earmarked $146 million for the Arrow anti-ballistic missile program that protects Israel from the threat of Scud missile attacks. The full House passed its version of the 2003 Defense Department budget last month, which included $130 million for the Arrow. The Bush administration originally had requested $65.7 million. For the Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser, known as THEL, the Senate proposed $23.5 million, a $10 million increase from the House bill and a $20 million increase from the White House request. Both houses of Congress are expected to take up the annual foreign operations spending bill, which provides the majority of aid to the Middle East, in the fall.

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