Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

CONGRESS WATCH: Administration Requests 1999 Foreign Aid Increase and Full Funding for Israeli Military and Economic Aid

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

CONGRESS WATCH: Administration Requests 1999 Foreign Aid Increase and Full Funding for Israeli Military and Economic Aid

Article excerpt

CONGRESS WATCH: Administration Requests 1999 Foreign Aid Increase And Full Funding for Israeli Military and Economic Aid

Apart from the occasional glance toward Iraq (see p. 15), most congressional activity concerning the Middle East during this session of Congress has been in connection with the budget and appropriations process. To be sure, a few new bills were introduced, and some pro-Israel letters were written, but, for the most part, the second session of the 105th Congress has been notable so far for what it has not done regarding the Middle East. There has been no further action regarding the pending bills, reviewed in our March issue, that would impose sanctions on countries supplying missile technology to Iran; would cut off financial transactions against "countries supporting terrorism"; and would impose sanctions on countries engaging in religious persecution. Several other issues discussed in our "Congressional Preview" in the March issue have been raised, mostly in connection with the budget hearings, but they, too, have made no legislative progress.

THE BUDGET

On Feb. 2, President Clinton submitted his fiscal year 1999 budget proposals to Congress. They include some $20 billion for foreign affairs spending, about $1 billion more than was appropriated for FY-98. Of this total, some $14 billion -- about $800 million more than in FY-98 -- is for bilateral foreign aid and for contributions to international institutions such as the Export- Import Bank. These amounts do not include the $1 billion or so the administration is asking for payment of arrears owed to the U.N. That money will be requested as a separate supplemental appropriation. The requests for the Middle East remain about the same as last year. For Israel: $1.2 billion economic aid, $1.8 billion military aid, and $70 million ($10 million less than last year) for "refugee resettlement." For Egypt: $815 million economic aid and $1.3 billion military aid. For Jordan: $150 million economic aid and $75 million military aid (including $25 million in military supplies and services from the Department of Defense). For the Palestinians: $100 million. As was he case last year, the budget assumes that Israel and Egypt will each contribute to the "Middle East Peace and Stability Fund" that will be used to finance part of Jordan's aid. Clinton also requested funding for a Middle East Development Bank, which Congress previously has refused to approve.

Aid to Israel to Decline? Israeli Finance Minister Ya'acov Neeman surprised many observers by suggesting that Congress phase out the $1.2 billion economic aid to Israel over the next 10 to 12 years, while at the same time increasing military aid by $600 million. Neeman's proposal came during meetings with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston (R-LA) and foreign operations subcommittee Chairman Sonny Callahan (R-AL) during a visit to the U.S. the last week of January. Although this was not reflected in the president's budget submission, there has been some talk in Congress of beginning the program this year by cutting $200 million in economic aid, presumably with a parallel $100 million increase in military aid.

Nobody is saying what prompted Neeman's proposal at this time. The Israeli Embassy and AIPAC both say that it is simply the fulfillment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's pledge in 1996 to reduce and eventually to end Israel's dependence on U.S. economic aid. However, as we mentioned in the "Congressional Preview" article in our March issue, Livingston and Callahan have grumbled that the Middle East gets too large a share of U.S. aid. It is possible that Netanyahu wanted to make this relatively inexpensive initiative as a way to further shore up relations with Congress at a time when his standing with the Clinton administration is relatively rocky.

Details of Neeman's proposal have yet to be worked out, and are not likely to be until the appropriations committees begin developing their FY-99 appropriations bills, which will not happen until after Congress returns from its Easter recess in late April. …

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