Aid to Israel intact under House foreign aid package

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — A record number of Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives joined forces this week to approve an $11.9 billion foreign aid bill that maintains Israel's current $3 billion in assistance.

The measure, which passed 366 to 57 on Tuesday, also includes $2.1 billion for Egypt and $590 million for the republics of the former Soviet Union, including Russia. The measure also allows the president to send an additional $75 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority if that entity complies with its peace accord commitments to Israel.

The measure, which is expected to pass the Senate in the coming weeks, also includes $30 million earmarked for F-16 fighter jets for Jordan. Secretary of State Warren Christopher told Jordan's King Hussein at a meeting Tuesday that a planned shipment of older model F-16s is in the final stages.

As a formality, the State Department notified Congress of the proposed transfer. Israeli crews are expected to upgrade the planes for the Jordanian Royal Air Force. The foreign aid measure also allocates $10 million in economic assistance for Jordan and $25 million to pay off the Hashemite Kingdom's remaining debts to the United States.

Hussein, in the United States to attend his son's college graduation, met with Christopher and Secretary of Defense William Perry on Tuesday. A White House meeting with President Clinton to discuss prospects for Middle East peace in the wake of the Israeli elections was scheduled earlier this week.

Although the foreign aid bill maintains current aid levels to the Middle East, many activists are uncomfortable that funds for Israel and Egypt combined comprise more than 45 percent of the total U.S. aid package.

The bill, which is $450 million less than the current aid package, got a mixed reaction from some in the Jewish community who had worked to prevent cuts in the package. The measure provides no economic development aid to African states, which last year received about $740 million.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, whose primary lobbying goal is to secure passage of the foreign aid bill, welcomed the broad support the measure received in spite of the anti-foreign aid atmosphere on Capitol Hill.

The bill includes many pro-Israel provisions, including early disbursal procedures guaranteeing that the Jewish state will receive its money before the end of October. Israel would also receive $80 million for refugee resettlement and $50 million for anti-terrorism equipment, delivered after a spate of terror attacks rocked the Jewish state earlier this year.

The Senate is expected to mandate that the president send Israel and Egypt the amount approved by Congress. Otherwise, the White House could shuffle funds to other countries.

President Clinton, who sought an additional $1 billion in the foreign aid package, is expected to sign the bill if it clears the Senate.