US to Israel: Don't request funds for convergence

Message conveyed to Olmert via Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein; Israel had never planned to ask for help.

ehud olmert 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
ehud olmert 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
A day after US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said President George Bush will not discuss the details of the convergence plan when he meets Prime Minister Ehud Olmert next week, but would rather prefer to allow him to outline his vision, officials said the US has also informed Israel not to ask for funding for the withdrawal plan. This message was conveyed to the prime minister by the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, in a Sunday night meeting with the premier. The Israeli government had not planned on asking the Americans for economic assistance for the proposed pullout plan during Olmert's first official visit to Washington since taking office this month, but the American Administration, it appears, wanted to make sure that this was the case. "There is a common understanding about the purpose of the visit, which is meant for the prime minister and the president to establish relations...and to strengthen the bonds on both sides," Hoenlein told The Jerusalem Post Monday. Olmert's convergence plan, whereby Israel would unilaterally withdraw from scores of isolated West Bank settlements while strengthening the major settlement blocs, is expected to cost as much as $10 billion. Olmert spokesman Assi Shariv said last week that Olmert did not plan on asking the US administration for any economic support for the future West Bank pullout plan on this trip. The United States and Israel are still discussing a reduced aid package that would help fund economic development in the Negev and Galilee after Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year. The funding, which has been put on hold in the wake of the devastating damage caused by a hurricane that struck the US Gulf Coast last year, was originally slated to be $2 billion, and was intended to cover part of the cost of the disengagement, but has since been reduced to $1.2 billion, with the money geared exclusively for the development of the Negev and the Galilee. The prime minister's four-day US trip includes a get-acquainted meeting with Bush at the White House on May 23, an address before a special joint session of the Congress the next day, and meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Olmert has repeatedly said that if it proves impossible to restart negotiations with the Palestinians, he will work to unilaterally redraw the country's borders in the coming years.