WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israel is asking the United States to help pay for a $450 million proposal to set up new crossing points and upgrade others along its barrier with Palestinian areas, U.S. sources briefed on the plan said on Tuesday.
Israel wants $450 million extra from US for new Nazi-style checkpoints
Israeli officials began briefing the administration and key congressional leaders this week on the tentative proposal, which calls for Washington to contribute an estimated $180 million, with Israel paying the rest. Israel already receives nearly $3 billion a year in U.S. aid.
Sources described the $450 million proposal as a draft and said the cost estimates could change.
According to people briefed on the proposal, U.S. funding would help cover the cost of high-tech terminals in the barrier designed to speed the inspection of Palestinian people and cargo.
Advocates say the goal is to increase freedom of movement and economic growth in Palestinian areas, as part of an international push to shore up newly-elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and aid Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
"In recent months, Israel and the (Bush) administration have been in ongoing conversations about the ways in which to strengthen the Palestinian economy and improve the humanitarian situation on the ground," an Israeli diplomat said.
The proposal comes as the Bush administration is assembling a new aid package for the Palestinians expected to total as much as $200 million to help bolster Abbas.
Bush spoke to Abbas on Monday, promising U.S. assistance and inviting him to visit the White House after years of shunning Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, as an obstacle to peace.
The new aid for the Palestinians would come on top of the financial assistance already provided by the United States, either through the United Nations or through nongovernmental organizations.
The U.S. Congress gives $75 million a year to support programs in the West Bank and Gaza, mostly through international aid groups. The State Department estimated total U.S. assistance, including funding that goes through the United Nations, at nearly $200 million.
The World Bank said last month that the Palestinians could expect an extra $500 million a year in vital aid if violence stopped and there was progress toward peace with Israel.
The Bush administration may include the additional money for the Palestinians and the Israelis in an $80 billion to $100 billion supplemental spending package for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The package is expected to be sent to Congress in February or March.
Bush included $1 billion in direct military assistance for Israel and $9 billion in loan guarantees in his 2003 Iraq war supplemental.
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.
Reuters, "Israel Wants U.S. to Partly Fund New Checkpoints", 11 January 2005.
"The Insider" mailing list article, 12 January 2005.
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