- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

The costs are rising now that the Bush administration has taken a bigger role in pushing for Middle East peace: Tens of millions of dollars for reconstruction in Palestinian areas, plus efforts in Congress to provide Israel more than the billions of dollars in aid it now receives.

The United States will bear much of the cost for U.S. and British security wardens to watch over six Palestinian prisoners in a deal ending Israel's siege of Yasser Arafat. The Bush administration is certain to face pressure to provide more such monitors as it works to resolve other standoffs between the Israelis and Palestinians.

But American taxpayers face potential costs even if President Bush does not become involved in trying to solve the Middle East crisis, analysts say. Those include more security for Americans at embassies and military posts overseas and a potential spillover effect onto oil prices.

Continued fighting could strain relations further between the United States and centrist Arab nations, perhaps requiring U.S. officials to move some troops from Saudi Arabia or to duplicate military deployments there at high cost.

"It's an incredibly volatile region," said Antony Blinken, a National Security Council official in the Clinton White House. "If any of these situations spiral out of control, we could get unintended consequences that would prove very costly indeed, both in terms of money and lives."

Some costs to the United States such as the prisoner monitors are incurred because the United States, and its closest ally Britain, are the only outside mediators that both sides trust. Israel resists any U.N.-sponsored monitors.

Other costs arise from political pressures.

For example, a top Republican in Congress, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, wants to add an extra $200 million in Israeli aid to make a strong statement of support for that longtime ally.

White House officials have been reluctant, saying they strongly support Israel but worry such actions could inflame Arab anger further.

The United States will give Israel $2.8 billion in aid this year, about one-fifth of total American aid to all countries. That includes $2 billion in military aid and $730 million in economic aid.

On the Palestinian side, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has announced an additional $30 million for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency to help with emergency reconstruction in areas destroyed during Israel's military offensive. Israel said the offensive was necessary to stop terrorist bombings.

That emergency aid came on top of the $72 million in economic aid the United States already was to provide this year to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for health, water and education projects, and small-business promotion.

No money goes to Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority, State Department officials say, but rather to private aid groups or to projects directly overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In addition, almost $182 million pledged to help Palestinians in past years which had remained unspent during the last year's violence now will be available for emergency reconstruction, the State Department said.

The aid is needed "to address the increasingly desperate situations faced by the Palestinian people," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

In addition to such aid, a handful of U.S. security personnel and a larger British contingent were to oversee six Palestinians moved Wednesday from Mr. Arafat's headquarters at Ramallah to a jail in Jericho. Under the deal, Israeli troops then withdrew from Ramallah, leaving Mr. Arafat free to travel.

The civilian wardens will have police and security experience and may be recruited from private security companies, U.S. officials said.

Some want the United States to go even further: Both Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and some of America's Arab allies say some type of U.S.-led peacekeeping force eventually might be needed.

The administration has not supported that.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide