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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer will head a high-level Israeli delegation to Washington this week for talks on the future of American aid, with his presence aimed at sending a message of "fiscal responsibility," government officials said Sunday.
The team left Sunday night and will discuss terms of a new multiyear US aid package that is expected - in addition to the annual military assistance - to also include loan guarantee requests for development of the Negev and Galilee.
The talks come as a 10-year plan launched by former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 1997 to wean Israel from civilian assistance expires in 2008. Under the plan, civilian aid - which in 1998 stood at $1.2 billion - would be eliminated by 2008, while military aid would grow from $1.8b. to $2.4b.
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said the team would ask to renew the agreement for another $2.4b. in military assistance annually over the next decade. According to the sources, this money is entirely spent in the US, much of it on joint US-Israeli projects.
At this time, the officials said, it was unlikely that Israel would ask for additional aid because of last summer's war in Lebanon. They also said it was not clear how much would be asked for new loan guarantees.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with the delegation on Sunday. In addition to Fischer, the delegation also includes Finance Ministry director-general Yarom Ariav, Foreign Ministry director-general Aharon Abramovitch, National Security Council head Ilan Mizrahi, IDF Planning Directorate head Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan and Ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor.
One official said having Fischer head the delegation was wise since it "broadcasts the idea that the requests are coming under the umbrella of fiscal responsibility."
In a related development, European Commissioner for External Relations and Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner is scheduled to arrive Monday evening for two days of talks in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
She is expected to discuss with Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Amir Peretz details of a plan being drawn up in the European Commission for aid to the PA if it meets the Quartet's demands to renounce terrorism, recognize Israel and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian accords.
Diplomatic officials said Sunday that despite PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's recent trip to Europe, where he tried to drum up support for lifting the boycott on the PA government once a national unit government was established, they were confident that the EU would remain firm in demanding that the PA government fulfill the Quartet's three conditions.