Clinton to press for extra aid for Israel
By Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz, Wednesday, October 25, 2000
The U.S. administration is expected to ask Congress this week for a special military aid package for Israel, which will total hundreds of millions of dollars, Israeli government sources involved in the contacts with the administration said yesterday.
Congress recesses on Friday, and the administration is expected to present an "omnibus bill" containing a number of budgetary requests before then.
Israel has asked the United States for an $800 million aid package, half to cover the costs of the withdrawal from Lebanon, and half to finance development of an anti-missile defense program in light of Iran's successful test of its new Shihab missile. This money would be on top of the usual military aid package, which will total $1.98 billion next year.
At first, American officials said they would request a much smaller aid package, of between $150 million and $200 million. But Prime Minister Ehud Barak reiterated his request for the larger sum to President Bill Clinton at the Sharm al-Sheikh summit last week, and Israeli sources said yesterday that there is now "a chance that our full request will be approved [by Clinton] and submitted to Congress."
Sources in both the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry predict that Clinton will try to "do something" with the peace process after the November 7 elections in the U.S., in order to secure his "legacy." Once the elections are over, he will be free of political pressures.
According to reports that have reached Jerusalem, the American administration is considering convening a summit with Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The latter has proposed November 16 as a date. The summit would be a continuation of the Camp David talks this summer, with the goal of reaching a framework agreement for a permanent settlement.
The administration's main concerns regarding this plan are the continuing violence in the territories and the political situation in Israel - particularly the possibility of the Likud's entry into the government.
Earlier this week, the administration rejected Barak's request that it publicly blame the Palestinians for the violation of the Sharm al-Sheikh cease-fire agreement.
Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami will go to the U.S. next week to discuss the peace process and bilateral relations with National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Among other items, Ben-Ami will push Israel's request that it be "upgraded" to the status of a "strategic ally." Bilateral talks on this issue were frozen a few weeks ago.
The unilateral separation plan
Meanwhile, in an effort to defuse the criticism which Barak's plan for unilateral separation from the Palestinians has elicited - in particular from the United States - the Prime Minister's Office published a document yesterday declaring that "separation from the Palestinians does not mean dissociation."
"Dissociation, whether economic, infrastructure-related, civilian or social, is not only impossible, it does not serve Israeli interests," the document said.
The document stated that Israel's goal is still a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians, but that "this goal, particularly in light of recent events, may have to be translated into a number of interim goals, the central one being a start to implementation of a separation between Israel and the territories of Judea and Samaria." However, it noted, this separation would be gradual, occurring over several years.
The basic concept of the separation plan, the document said, is a "border that breathes" - meaning one through which economic and infrastructure cooperation could continue to flow. The exact location of this border has not yet been determined
Congress set to okay $2.8 billion for IsraelBy Nitzan Horowitz, 10/28/2000, Ha'aretz Correspondent
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Congress yesterday completed the procedures for approving the annual American aid package to Israel for next year. Israel will receive $1.98 billion dollars in military aid and an additional $800 million in civilian assistance.
The package reflects the restructuring of the aid package carried out during the tenure of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which Israel gets $120 million less civilian aid per year in return for a $60 million annual increase in military assistance.
While the annual assistance package is in the process of being approved, U.S. and Israeli officials have intensified their talks over the additional $800 million in military aid requested by Israel to pay for the IDF's withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the development of an anti-ballistic missile shield. The urgency stems from the approach of the elections for Congress on November 7.
Israel's ambassador to Washington, David Ivry, met yesterday with senior officials in the National Security Council and the budget office of the White House to discuss the special assistance package.
Israeli officials say that the "ball is now in the court of the administration," which must issue a request to both houses of Congress. The administration is expected to make the request soon.
Initially, the large sum requested by Israel stirred significant opposition in Washington and the administration said that they would issue a request for a smaller sum to Congress. Nonetheless, as a result of recent deliberations between officials of the two governments, including talks between President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, it is believed that the request made to Congress will not be significantly less than the sum asked by Israel.