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After Four-month Delay, Israel Gets U.S. Foreign Aid

January 29, 1996
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Israel will finally receive its $3 billion 1996 foreign and package from the United States, albeit four months late and at a cost of more than $25 million to the Jewish state.

A compromise during debate last week on a stopgap spending measures designed to avert a third federal government shutdown freed the $12.1 billion foreign aid bill from legislative limbo.

Israel received about 12 percent of its aid in two previous continuing resolutions passed to keep the U.S. government functioning during the federal budget impasse.

The measure, known formally as the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, was held hostage for almost six months while lawmakers sparred over pro-life provisions passed by the House and rejected by the Senate.

House and Senate negotiators struck a compromise last week and folded the entire package, including $2.1 billion for Egypt and $75 million for the Palestinian Authority, into the continuing resolution signed last Friday night by President Clinton.

Steven Grossman, president of American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said he welcomed the bill’s passage “because so many aspects of the peace process are inextricably linked to this bill.”

In addition, the measure has a “record number of pro-Israel provisions,” he said, citing as an example a measure that gives Israel discounted prices on U.S. goods.

Since the early 1980s, Israel has received its foreign aid Oct. 1, at the start of the American fiscal year. Through the same “early disbursal” procedures. Israel will receive its money within 30 days.

But the delay has cost Israel an estimated $6 million a month. The Jewish state has dispensed money from its own coffers from October 1995 to February 1996 to repay foreign debts customarily paid by using the $1.2 billion in U.S. economic aid.

An additional $1.8 billion in military aid comes back to the United States to pay for new hardware, maintenance and research.

In addition, Israel began its own fiscal year Jan. 1, showing a higher budget deficit because the aid had not arrived.

Fears that the imbalance would impact Israel’s standing on Wall Street and in the international financial community did not play out.

After an initial push to get the measure passed by the start of the year, Israeli officials and pro-Israel activists took a low-key approach waiting for Congress to strike a compromise on the pro-life language.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who tired in vain to prod Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to remove the pro-life language from the measure, hailed the bill’s passage but decried the measure’s “awful pro-life provisions.”

“This is the best deal we could hope to get,” she said.

In the end, Congress agreed to withhold funds until the summer to overseas population control programs that include abortion counseling. They would then receive only 65 percent of the funding they were slated to receive.

The measures also includes an 18-month extension of the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act, which allows U.S. aid to flow to the Palestinian Authority and diplomatic contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

While the measure beefs up some requirements the Palestinians must meet to receive U.S. aid, some hardline Jewish activists said the provisions do not go far enough.

Instead of requiring the Palestine National Council to amend its covenant, which calls for Israel’s destruction, the measure requires that the PLO “submit” the changes to the PNC.

In addition, the newly elected Palestine National Council – the legislative body for the self-rule areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – must “disavow” and “nullify” the covenant if the PNC has not done so.

The requirements fall short of Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres’ charge linking final-status talks with amending the covenant.

“This leaves a very large loophole which would allow [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat to not change the covenant and continue to receive American taxpayer dollars,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

With this in mind Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) last week began to gather lawmakers’ signatures on a letter to Arafat calling on the Palestinian leader to work toward amending the covenant.

“It is inconceivable that the harsh anti-Israeli language contained in the covenant remains in effect at the very time that you are negotiating with the government of Israel and attempting to live together in peace,” the letter states.

According to agreements with Israel, the PNC has 60 days after the newly elected Palestinian Council takes office to amend the covenant. The council is expected to begin functioning after the end of the month long Muslim festival of Ramadan, which ends in late February.

Although the measure may explicitly require the PNC to amend the covenant, AIPAC’s Grossman said that “there is absolutely no doubt that there will be total unanimity in AIPAC, the Jewish community, Congress, the administration and Israel that failure to abrogate the covenant will be cause for a cessation of continued funding to the Palestinian Authority.”

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