- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

The Bush administration indicated yesterday that it would pledge U.S. funds to rebuild the Palestinian infrastructure destroyed by Israel, but it has yet to receive support from a Congress focused on increasing aid to the Jewish state.
The United States has already announced it is providing $30 million for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, as well as another $62 million in accelerated assistance for health care, water system repairs and emergency food aid for the Palestinians.
Yesterday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid that the administration will request money to help rebuild Palestinian cities "if we get a political process going" to try to settle the conflict.
The State Department said there was no decision yet on the amount Washington would offer at the two-day international donors' conference in Oslo beginning April 25, but said the United States would be represented, most likely by William Burns, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.
Mr. Burns accompanied Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on his 10-day trip to the Middle East, but remained in the region after Mr. Powell returned early yesterday.
"Economic and humanitarian assistance to address the increasingly desperate conditions faced by the Palestinian people" is an important element of the "comprehensive strategy" to end the current crisis, which Mr. Powell presented before leaving Jerusalem on Wednesday, State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker told reporters.
He said helping the Palestinians recover from the recent attacks will be an "international operation," noting that the United Nations, the European Union and Russia supported the effort at a meeting in Madrid last week.
But he also said the administration expects Arab nations to chip in as well. "The secretary also met with Arab leaders, regional leaders, and discussed with them the president's call for responsibility to be taken on so many sides to do this," Mr. Reeker said.
Asked how the administration would distinguish between what Israel calls terrorist infrastructure and facilities required for the Palestinians' daily needs, he said the United States would consult with the international community.
"We'll work with the U.N. and determine the most immediate needs in terms of the humanitarian situation, and then the longer-term needs [are] something that will be discussed at the types of conferences like we'll see in Oslo," he said.
But members of Congress said appropriating new aid for the Palestinians was not on the agenda yet.
"I think it is too early," said Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat. "Right now, they are totally focused on getting the parties together to stop the suicide bombers and come to a negotiated settlement."
Rep. Jim Kolbe, the Arizona Republican who chairs the foreign aid spending subcommittee, wouldn't comment on aid for the Palestinians, one of his aides said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, thinks that "first and foremost, we need complete renunciation" by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of "acts of terrorism" in Israel, a member of her staff said.
Mrs. Feinstein and Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, yesterday introduced a bill to impose sanctions on Mr. Arafat, but said they did not plan to bring it to a vote immediately to avoid interfering with peacemaking efforts.
"I don't believe we should be bringing it up for a vote right now," Mr. McConnell said, but he noted that other senators were being recruited as bill co-sponsors to show displeasure with Mr. Arafat.
"I believe this is not a leader who wants peace for his people," Mrs. Feinstein said.
The McConnell-Feinstein bill would impose diplomatic sanctions on Mr. Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, including denial of U.S. entry visas for PLO members, downgrading the PLO office in Washington, travel restrictions on PLO representatives at the United Nations and confiscation of PLO assets in the United States.
One U.S. Jewish leader slammed the administration's plan.
Said Morton A. Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America: "This sends a message to Arafat that the U.S. will continue giving him American taxpayers' dollars, even if his terrorists murder Jews and no matter how many 'peace' promises he breaks."
The administration also signaled yesterday that it would support additional financial aid to Israel as part of a $27 billion emergency counterterrorism spending bill.
Mrs. Lowey, the top Democrat on the subcommittee before which Mr. Armitage testified, said efforts were under way to add up to $200 million for Israel to the roughly $1.3 billion in emergency funds for nations that Washington deems key in the war on terrorism.
The Jewish state receives $3 billion in U.S. assistance annually, and has sought to increase that amount by up to $800 million.
But Mr. Kolbe said, "I have a tendency to follow the administration's plan, which is not to ask for additional money for Israel."

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