Hurricane Katrina damage is jeopardizing all US foreign aid programs for 2006. Not only Israel’s special aid request for developing the Negev and Galilee, promised by President George W. Bush, is at risk so is the regular civilian and military aid Israel is due to receive in the next fiscal year.
Pro-Israeli sources in Washington are beginning to countenance the possibility that aid for Negev and Galilee development, which was due to be granted following the disengagement plan, will be delayed by at least a year. Furthermore, the $600-700 million intended to cover the cost of moving military installations out of the Gaza Strip, is now off the agenda altogether.
“Israel will be lucky to get $1 billion for developing the Negev and Galilee in 2007. It can forget about getting $2 billion,” said a well-informed US source.
In recognition of the new reality, an Israeli delegation, headed by Ministry of Finance director general Dr. Joseph Bachar and Prime Minister’s Office director general Ilan Cohen, scheduled to visit Washington this week to discuss the special aid package, has been cancelled. However, Bachar will visit Washington in early autumn to attend the International Monetary Fund (IMF) session, and will probably try to find out the fate of both current and special aid for 2006.
The greatest threat to the special aid package, and to US foreign aid in general, including regular civilian and military aid to Israel, is Bush’s loss of standing in recent days over the serious failures by the administration in helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina. An attempt by the White House to allocate billions of dollars for developing parts of Israel that few Americans have ever heard of, is liable to further undermine Bush’s political stature.
A year before Congressional elections in November 2006, few senators and representatives, including friends of Israel, will pay attention to the Negev and Galilee, or to foreign aid in general.
There is talk in Washington about suspending US foreign aid in 2006, or an across-the-board cut in aid to all countries. This means that Israel will get much less, or even no, regular civilian or military aid in 2006.
Israeli sources stress that the Bush administration has made no decision about the special aid package to Israel, but the feeling in Israel is that good taste requires a lower a profile. Israel’s dilemma is that it would be inconsiderate to ask for aid now, but neither should it announce foregoing the aid. The position of both the Israeli government and the American-Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) is to sit quietly and do nothing.
US aid to Palestinians is also at risk. The Palestinian Authority received $50 million in direct US aid in August, but Palestinian leaders told the US that they wanted much more, in order to show the people that following the US would bear fruit.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on September 11, 2005