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Palestinians Would Get More Aid in Bush Plan (NY TIMES) By STEVEN R. WEISMAN WASHINGTON 02/03/05)Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/03/politics/03diplo.html NEW YORK TIMES NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 - President Bush said Wednesday that the United States would sharply increase the amount of its direct aid to the Palestinians, channeling $350 million to rebuilding infrastructure, paying salaries and shoring up moderate Palestinian leaders as they discuss a new round of mutual concessions with Israel.

Mr. Bush´s announcement, a significant reflection of an increasing administration role in the Middle East, was in his State of the Union address as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prepared to leave on Thursday for Europe, Israel and the West Bank to discuss more steps to be taken by Israel and the Palestinians to ease tensions between them.

Also on her agenda, administration officials said, is a plan to enlist Europeans to help persuade Arab countries to increase aid to the Palestinian Authority, for possible use in giving $100 monthly stipends to poor Palestinians and for retirement benefits for perhaps 1,000 members of Palestinian militia groups.

"The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace is within reach, and America will help them achieve that goal," Mr. Bush declared in his speech to Congress.

In another step to push the peace talks, disclosed by administration officials before the speech, Ms. Rice is planning to discuss the establishment of a three-part commission that will include the United States to help monitor steps by Israel and the Palestinians to ease tensions.

For Israel, such steps would include lifting checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank and generally easing restrictions on residents.

The venture might also ease the sharing of intelligence among Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States to stop terrorist attacks, along the lines of an earlier model that involved the Central Intelligence Agency and its director, then George J. Tenet, a few years ago.

Still another extremely delicate issue to be discussed on Ms. Rice´s visit, an administration official said, is what to do about the "corridor" between Gaza and Egypt through which Israel says arms and bombs are smuggled.

Roughly 750 Egyptian troops are to patrol the corridor after Israel carries out its planned withdrawal from Gaza this summer. It is not certain whether there may also be a multinational force in Gaza, but the United States has in the past looked with favor on the multinational force that has patrolled the Sinai Peninsula since Israel withdrew from it as part of the 1978 Camp David accords that brought peace with Egypt.

Mr. Bush´s aid announcement and Ms. Rice´s trip form part of a strategy by the administration to sharpen the pace of Middle East diplomacy since the election last month of a new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. Over two years, many European leaders have criticized Mr. Bush for not doing more to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian impasse.

Direct American aid to the Palestinian Authority has averaged about $75 million a year since the late 1990´s, when hopes were high for Middle East peace. But since 2003, the United States has cut back on aid, in part to punish Palestinian authorities for failing to investigate the deaths of three security guards in Gaza that year.

Administration officials said that of the $350 million in new aid for the Palestinians, $200 million would come from a supplemental budget request for the current year to be submitted to Congress, and $150 million from the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in October.

Both sums would be subject to approval by Congress, where lawmakers have been skeptical of American aid to the Palestinians, arguing that much international aid has not been properly accounted for. The Bush administration had some difficulty persuading Congress to go along with a mere $20 million in new Palestinian aid announced in December.

Besides the direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, the United States channels perhaps $100 million a year to Palestinian relief camps run by the United Nations in Gaza.

Aid from Arab countries to the Palestinians is a sore subject for Washington and for Mr. Abbas and the Palestinian finance minister, Salam Fayyad. American officials say that while Saudi Arabia, Libya and Algeria have delivered promised aid, Kuwait and various Persian Gulf countries have not.

The shortfall on pledges, they say, is $400 million. Ms. Rice leaves Thursday for an eight-day of trip, most of it in Europe but with a concentration in Europe on the Middle East - which includes, with the Arab-Israeli dispute, Iraq, Iran, Syria and the so-called "broader Middle East" initiative for democracy in the Arab and Muslim world. (Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company 02/03/05)


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