Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

House Passes Money Bills before Congress Breaks for August Recess

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

House Passes Money Bills before Congress Breaks for August Recess

Article excerpt

Shirl McArthur, a retired foreign service officer, is a consultant in the Washington, DC area.

Before both houses of Congress departed for their August recess, the House managed to pass all four of the money bills of interest to the Middle East: the Foreign Relations Authorization bill (H.R. 1950), and the appropriations bills for Defense (H.R. 2658), Foreign Operations (H.R. 2800), and the departments of Commerce, Justice and State (H.R. 2799). Of these, however, the Senate has passed only the Defense appropriations bill--and even that one has not yet emerged from the conference committee reconciling the House and Senate versions.

But perhaps the most interesting money development is the report, first reported Aug. 3 by Israeli Ha'aretz columnist Ze'ev Schiff and subsequently picked up by the major media, that the State Department is preparing a proposal for President George W. Bush's approval that would reduce the amount of Israel's loan guarantees dollar for dollar for the amounts that Israel spends on the separation wall east of the Green Line. This already has provoked letters of outrage from members of Congress, and there no doubt will be more upon their return to Washington in September. So far, Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) reportedly either have sent or are sending letters to Bush urging him not to reduce the loan guarantees, and Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) and Hoyer have publicly protested. Schumer was quoted by the Jewish publication The Forward as saying, "Congress will do everything in its power to ensure that these loan guarantees are not held up." Earlier, on July 22, Reps. Tom Lantos (D-CA) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) wrote to Bush expressing their support "for the security fence."

Authorization Bill: Extra Goodies

The most significant of the four bills is the Foreign Relations Authorization bill, because of some of the extra goodies that were tacked onto it. The bill authorizes the expected amounts of aid for Israel and Egypt and includes the same provisions "with respect to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel" that were in the authorization bill last year, which Bush said he would ignore because they were an unconstitutional infringement on executive powers. It also includes the same section as in last year's bill, saying the U.S. "should assist its ally, Israel, in its efforts to establish diplomatic relations" with other countries. The section includes the questionable "finding" that Israel's security "is vital to regional stability and United States interests."

The bill also still includes the "Israeli-Palestinian Peace Enhancement Act," which was added in the International Relations Committee by Lantos, the ranking committee Democrat and the leader of the Israel-first clique in the House. This act was described in great detail in the July/August issue of the Washington Report. Briefly, it would support the establishment of a Palestinian state, authorize a large U.S. aid program for the new state, and call for the president to encourage a multilateral aid effort. But this would happen only after the president certifies to Congress that a peace agreement exists between the Palestinians and Israel and that the new Palestinian government has complied with an eight-item list of requirements that include holding democratic elections, and renouncing terrorism and the incitement to "acts against the state of Israel and its citizens." On the positive side, as passed the section still includes the "finding" that "a stable and peaceful Palestinian state is necessary to achieve the security that Israel longs for, and Israel should take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable, credible Palestinian state."

An addition to the authorization bill is the "Sense of Congress concerning United States Assistance to Palestinian Refugees." This section begins with a recognition that humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees is "an essential component to the peace process. …

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