After four-month delay, Israel gets U.S. foreign aid

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Israel will finally receive its $3 billion 1996 foreign aid package from the United States, albeit four months late and at a cost of more than $25 million to the Jewish state.

A compromise during January debate on a stopgap spending measure designed to avert a third federal government shutdown freed the $12.1 billion foreign aid bill from legislative limbo.

Israel received about 12 percent of its aid in two previous continuing resolutions passed to keep the U.S. government functioning during the federal budget impasse.

The measure, known formally as the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, was held hostage for almost six months while lawmakers sparred over pro-life provisions passed by the House and rejected by the Senate.

House and Senate negotiators struck a compromise and folded the entire package, including $2.1 billion for Egypt and $75 million for the Palestinian Authority, into the continuing resolution signed by President Bill Clinton.

Steven Grossman, president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), said he welcomed the bill's passage "because so many aspects of the peace process are inextricably linked to this bill."

In addition, the measure has a "record number of pro-Israel provisions," he said, citing as an example a measure that gives Israel discounted prices on U.S. goods.

Since the early 1980s, Israel has received its foreign aid Oct. 1, at the start of the American fiscal year. Through the same "early disbursal" procedures, Israel will receive its money within 30 days.

But the delay has cost Israel an estimated $6 million a month. The Jewish state has dispensed money from its own coffers from October 1995 to February 1996 to repay foreign debts customarily paid by using the $1.2 billion in U.S. economic aid.

An additional $1.8 billion in military aid comes back to the United States to pay for new hardware, maintenance and research.

In addition, Israel began its own fiscal year Jan. 1, showing a higher budget deficit because the aid had not arrived.

However, fears that the imbalance would impact Israel's standing on Wall Street and in the international financial community did not play out.

After an initial push to get the measure passed by the start of the year, Israeli officials and pro-Israel activists took a low-key approach waiting for Congress to strike a compromise on the pro-life language.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who tried in vain to prod Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to remove the pro-life language from the measure, hailed the bill's passage but decried the measure's "awful pro-life provisions."

"This is the best deal we could hope to get," she said.

In the end, Congress agreed to withhold funds until the summer to overseas population control programs that include abortion counseling. They would then receive only 65 percent of the funding they were slated to receive.

The measure also includes an 18-month extension of the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act, which allows U.S. aid to flow to the Palestinian Authority and diplomatic contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization.