Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), the senior Democrat in the Senate, yesterday said US aid to Israel and Egypt should be conditional on progress in the Middle East peace talks.
Byrd was speaking at a Senate Budget Committee hearing with Secretary of State Colin Powell on the State Department's budget . Byrd said that US aid to Israel and Egypt "was wasted", given the cycle of violence in the Middle East, and the aid should not be granted to the two countries "without asking questions, unconditionally."
"The time has come to attach conditions to our aid to Middle Eastern countries," Byrd told Powell. "Aid to Israel should be conditional on proof of progress toward peace. Aid to Egypt should be conditional on its willingness to pressure [Palestinian Authority chairman] Yasser Arafat."
Byrd claimed, "The Middle East treats aid as a right," adding, "The US is beginning to increasingly favor Israel."
Israeli sources said that Byrd's comments were unsurprising. Byrd is part of a tiny Senate minority that does not support aid to Israel, and despite his senior standing, there was little chance he would be able to advance his cause.
Powell rejected Byrd's comments, saying that Israel was under attack and this was therefore not the right time to consider possibly cutting Israel’s special aid package. Powell claimed, "Egypt is doing everything in its power to pressure Arafat."
Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Rabbi Michael Melchior met Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley in Washington yesterday.
Published by Israel's Business Arena on 13 February 2002