FILE ID:95092002.NNE




(Some seek to impose conditions on U.S. assistance) (550)

By Rick Marshall

USIA Staff Writer

Washington -- The House Foreign Relations Committee began debate

September 20 on whether the U.S. should consider curtailing assistance

to the Palestinian Authority because of its perceived failure to live

up to the commitments the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

undertook with the Oslo Accords.

In his opening statement Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman

(Republican, New York) criticized PLO chairman Yasir Arafat for

continuing to support the destruction of the state of Israel in

remarks to Arab audiences.

He also pointed to "serious questions concerning the PLO's assets, its

ability to effectively utilize that aid, and assurances that aid funds

will in fact go to assist people in the self-rule areas, and not be

siphoned off for other purposes."

Democrats Tom Lantos (California) and Sam Gejedensen (Connecticut)

took a more positive view of the peace process and defended the

Clinton Administration's efforts to advance it despite the

difficulties which have arisen.

The debate was significant because it reflects a growing mood in

Congress that some modifications to the Middle East Peace Facilitation

Act (MEPFA) may be necessary, according to well-placed committee


MEPFA, which was passed in October 1993, is the basic law permitting

U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority. It has been surviving on

a series of short-term extensions which will expire at the end of


There is growing reluctance in the Congress to extend MEPFA beyond

this month, however. At the same time there is considerable interest

in Congress about the complaints which are being leveled against the

Palestinian Authority and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. The extent

to which assistance to the Palestinians may be curtailed or

conditioned as a result, is far from certain.

What is clear is that a number of new bills have been submitted in the

House and the Senate recently which its sponsors claim would force

Palestinian compliance with their Oslo Accord commitments or limit

U.S. assistance as a consequence.

Those criticizing Palestinian actions were Republicans Dan Burton

(Indiana) and Jim Saxton (New Jersey) as well as Democrats Eliot Engel

(New York) and Peter Deutsch (Florida). Burton and Engel are House

Foreign Relations Committee members.

Burton focused on the possibility that U.S. troops might be stationed

on the Golan Heights as part of a peace agreement between Israel and

Syria. Putting U.S. forces there, he said, would be "a terrible


Burton also referred to reports attributed to British intelligence

which say the Palestinian Liberation Organization has more than $8,000

million dollars in Swiss bank accounts. A subsequent committee

witness, Joe Kelley of the General Accounting Office, said that his

office had spoken with the British intelligence officer who had made

the claim, but that the officer had not furnished any information to

support it.

Lantos, who reminded the committee that he was the only survivor of

the Holocaust ever elected to the Congress, said that he found it

"inconceivable" that anyone would oppose the peace process.

Relinquishing the Gaza Strip has been of "enormous benefit" to Israel,

as have the business contacts which have flowed from Israel's peace

with its neighbors.

"The Clinton Administration is pursuing the right policy," Lantos

said, adding that he gave the administration his "full and unqualified