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News Brief


Israel’s Cabinet approved the 2008 budget.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert won approval for the $73 billion budget — the biggest in Israel’s history — on Sunday by a vote of 21 to 5. The budget must now be ratified by the Knesset, but a vote there is not expected until late this year or early 2008.

Israel plans to significantly boost spending on defense. Cutbacks on domestic needs such as road safety and law enforcement drew criticism from Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter.

A top U.S. congressman played down hopes of an Israeli-Palestinian breakthough in an upcoming peace conference hosted by President Bush.

Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, said Sunday that the fall conference would be hobbled by the fact that Bush is on his way out of office. The president intends to convene major Arab powers such as Saudi Arabia alongside Israel and the Palestinians.

“We must not exaggerate any expectations with respect to the meeting that will take place in November,” Lantos told reporters during a visit to Jerusalem. “While I understand that some people in the administration would like to see great achievements in the next few months, great achievements will not be forthcoming.”

The Saudis hinted they would attend the conference after the Bush administration said it would sell them $20 billion in arms, but congressional approval for the deal may not come easily.

Lantos said the arms sale “needs to be of such a nature that it does not represent a threat to the State of Israel.”

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