Bush Expected to Propose New Aid for Palestinians (REUTERS) By Adam Entous WASHINGTON Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Anna Willard 02/02/05 05:58 PM ET)
Reuters News Service
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush plans in his State of the Union
address on Wednesday to pledge greater assistance for the
Palestinians, including a financial aid package that could total
nearly $350 million to bolster development and security, sources
familiar with the plan said.
The announcement would highlight Bush´s support for Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas, elected last month to replace Yasser Arafat,
whom Bush shunned as an obstacle to peace until his death.
Sources said U.S. aid would help the Palestinians prepare for
Israel´s withdrawal from Gaza later this year, and is expected to be
tied to Palestinian efforts in stopping violence and carrying out
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held out the
possibility of U.S. support to train and equip Palestinian forces.
She will visit the region next week.
Most of the American money is expected to flow through
nongovernmental organizations because key U.S. lawmakers are wary of
providing direct aid to the Palestinians.
Following Arafat´s death, Bush provided $20 million directly to the
Palestinian Authority, but on condition that the money be used to pay
Israeli utility bills.
Rep. Jim Kolbe, who chairs the House of Representatives subcommittee
overseeing foreign aid, said he expected Bush to request Palestinian
funds on Wednesday night, and predicted it would pass Congress.
"I think it will be controversial but I think we can get it through,"
the Arizona Republican said.
GESTURE OF SUPPORT
Edward Walker, president of the Middle East Institute and former
assistant Secretary of State for near eastern affairs, said he
regarded the money -- if announced -- as a gesture of support for
Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.
"It is a measure of (their) effort to avoid what happened the last
time, when Abu Mazen became prime minister, in which nobody did
anything for him and he quickly lost credibility and couldn´t stand
up to Arafat," Walker said.
It was not immediately clear whether the new aid package -- which
sources said would total close to $350 million -- would include the
$75 million in aid that the United States already provides annually
in the West Bank and Gaza.
Under the new aid proposal, Bush would include around $200 million
for the Palestinians in his $80 billion package to fund military
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, sources said.
The rest of the money is expected to come from funds set aside under
an agreement reached in 1998, the sources said.
Israel, which already receives about $3 billion a year in U.S. aid,
is asking the United States to help pay for new crossing points along
its barrier with Palestinian areas. Sources said Israel wants
Washington to contribute an estimated $180 million toward the $450
Bush strongly supports Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s plan to
evacuate all 8,000 settlers from Gaza and a few hundred of the
230,000 in the West Bank later this year under an
Israeli "disengagement" plan.
Bush has approached European leaders in recent days to coordinate
efforts to restart peace talks since Arafat´s death, and has backed
British plans for a Middle East conference aimed at fostering
The World Bank says the Palestinians could expect an extra $500
million a year in vital aid if violence stopped and there was
progress toward peace with Israel. (Additional reporting by Arshad
Mohammed and Anna Willard) (© Reuters 2005 02/02/05)
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