Congress OKs PLO aid bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Showing support for Yitzhak Rabin's legacy of peace, Congress passed legislation this week that is seen as furthering the peace process.

The controversial legislation, the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act, enables U.S. funds to flow to the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization to operate its office here.

The legislation, first passed in 1993 after the historic handshake between Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat, had expired after getting caught in the web of Washington politicking.

The expiration of the measure, known as MEPFA, had forced the PLO to close its office. It also suspended all new U.S. economic aid projects to the Palestinians.

The House voted Tuesday to extend the legislation until the end of the year, allowing the PLO office to reopen. The Senate had already extended the legislation by 30 days and on Wednesday matched the House's time-frame.

Although the legislation lapsed as a result of squabbling over domestic political concerns, the move was widely seen in the Middle East as a repudiation by Congress of the peace process.

"If you want to help Israel now, it's important to help the Palestinians, they need economic assistance," Dedi Zucker, a Knesset member of the left-wing Meretz, told members of Congress.

He spoke to the lawmakers — who attended Rabin's funeral — at a meeting between the American delegation and Israeli politicians.

And that is what lawmakers appeared poised to do.

Rep. Michael Forbes (R-N.Y.), who had louldy opposed aid to the Palestinians, wrote in a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), just hours after Rabin's death:

"In memory of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and his devotion to a lasting peace in the Middle East, I shall remove my objections to a temporary extension of the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act."