Bush seeks $200m in funding for PA

Budget request includes $50 million to "train, equip and garrison Palestinian Authority Security Forces."

PA police 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
PA police 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
As international donors met in London to provide aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, US President George W. Bush included $200 million in funding for the PA as part of a supplemental budget request sent to Congress on Friday. Included in Bush's request for money for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he asked for $50 million to "train, equip, and garrison Palestinian Authority Security Forces," as well as another $150m. for "urgent budget support" for the PA as part of America's general economic assistance. Such funds would come on top of some $100m. already requested for the PA under the 2009 budget submitted in January, which is meant to strengthen government reforms, improve health and education and spur economic growth among other efforts. In that budget, Israel is due to receive $2.55 billion in military assistance. The move came as the United States had indicated it is willing to consider providing more money to the Palestinians and as it berates other countries, particularly Arab states, for not giving enough or fulfilling their previous commitments. The Bush administration, though, has also faced obstacles in proving aid to the Palestinians. In December in Paris at the first donors' conference held after formal Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations were opened at Annapolis in November, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged America would provide $555m. to the Palestinians. Yet Congress undercut her effort, approving just under half that much in the 2008 budget it was then approving. Still, the money was a significant increase in American funding to the PA, which has been held back in the past due to fears that the funds could find their way into the hands of terrorists or feed corruption in the Authority. Recently Congress has been open to supplying more funds out of a desire to bolster the peace talks and because of its confidence in the economic credentials of the new Palestinian Prime Minister, the Western-educated former International Monetary Fund official Salaam Fayad. Whatever objections Congress might have about the supplemental request for the Palestinians Bush announced Friday, however, are likely to be overshadowed by the issue of funding Iraq and Afghanistan, which make up the bulk of the $70m. request. As those controversial wars grind on amid a growing economic crisis - with reverberations in gas and food prices - at home, the Bush administration will likely face a challenge getting its priorities in the Middle East fully funded. This week the House Foreign Affairs Committee also approved a bill, the Security Assistance and Arms Control Act of 2008, which codifies the defense aid pledged to Israel. The $2.55 billion in 2009 is part of a 10-year deal over which the US will give Israel $30b. in military funds. The full House will now have to consider the measure. Authored by committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman (D-California) and ranking member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), and strongly supported by AIPAC, the bill also creates mechanisms to evaluate arms sales in the Middle East against a guarantee that Israel will maintain a qualitative edge. JTA contributed to this report.