Joint session of the US Congress 311 (R).
(photo credit:Jim Young / Reuters)
WASHINGTON – A key Congressional committee will consider a foreign aid bill
Wednesday that could threaten funding to the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon
and would codify in law the George W. Bush letter to Ariel Sharon.
bill, drawn up by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
(R-Florida), would also end by 2014 the president’s ability to waive the law
that requires him to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well as
mandate that official American documents list Jerusalem as part of Israel. The
State Department would also have to report on its diplomatic activities on
behalf of Israel to end efforts at isolating it.
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conditions aid to the PA on its recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and
ending all anti-Israel incitement in state-owned media, among other measures;
while aid to Lebanon includes a stipulation that no member of Hezbollah serve in
Currently, Hezbollah is a major force in the new
coalition government, while the PA has been either unwilling, or unable, to end
all incitement and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Egypt is also
required to honor the peace treaty with Israel, reject members of terror groups
from its governments, and detect and destroy smuggling tunnels to Gaza in order
to receive aid.
The language on Israel also includes a commitment to
continuing aid to Israel at the current rate of $3 billion-plus per year, with
slight increases over the course of a 10-year memorandum of understanding – as
well as to funding Israeli missile defense, which is allocated separately
through the defense appropriations committee.
The foreign aid bill will
be reviewed by Ros-Lehtinen’s committee Wednesday.
Once it passes out of
the committee, it is not clear whether the bill will reach the floor of the
House for a vote this fall. But even if it is approved by the full House it is
likely to be dramatically changed in the Senate before being considered by the
president, if it ever reaches his desk. The strict limits on aid to the
Palestinians and Lebanon – as well as some of the language on Jerusalem and the
Bush letter, would likely be opposed in the Democrat-controlled
The current version of the pending House legislation declares
that it “shall be the policy of the United States to uphold and act in
accordance with all of the reassurances provided by the President in an April
14, 2004, letter to the Prime Minister of Israel.”
The letter endorsed
the notion of Israel retaining major settlement blocs, and indicated that the
Palestinian right of return wouldn’t materialize.
But that document has
not been endorsed by the Obama administration, and Democratic allies are seen as
unlikely to put into law a provision that could limit Barack Obama’s range of
action in the peace process.
Democrats on the Hill also suggested that
Israel itself wants to see the aid to the Palestinians and surrounding Arab
countries continued as a way of improving the overall security
“My impression is that Israel wants this money to go
through. It’s something that Israel thinks enhances regional security so that’s
something you have to consider any time you want to draw a bright red line in
the sand,” said an aide to a Democratic member tracking these
Another Democratic aide was more blunt when it came to funding
for the PA.
“If the Israelis wanted to cut it off, Congress would cut it
off before they finished their sentence,” he said, noting that if a Palestinian
national unity government brings Hamas members into office both parties would
want to end aid to the PA immediately.
He described the conditions
imposed in the Ros-Lehtinen bill as ones that are impossible to
“It’s a cut-off without a cut-off,” he said.
official said Israel was staying neutral in the debate over the foreign-aid
bill’s expenditures to its Arab neighbors.
“We are interested in a
Palestinian Authority maintaining law and order, and strengthening their
security forces and prospering,” he said of US funding to the PA. “If there’s no
change with Hamas and Fatah [in the government], there’s no reason to change the
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