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Israel Seeks Added $1.2 Billion To Pay for West Bank Pullout

By Barton Gellman
The Washington Post

Israel is asking the Clinton administration for close to $1.2 billion in new foreign aid to pay the costs of moving troops and installations in the West Bank under an accord negotiated with the Palestinians last month, according to officials from both countries.

Raised formally Sunday during a visit to Washington by Finance Minister Yaakov Ne'eman, the Israel request comes at a time when the Jewish state's $3 billion in annual U.S. aid is being phased down by $60 million a year. It would be the first substantial infusion of American cash to pay for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

The U.S. government agreed during last month's Wye River summit to make a major contribution toward Israel's cost of relinquishing some 13 percent of the West Bank. It has not committed to a specific figure. Administration officials said the government is positively disposed toward the Israeli request and has begun to sound out Congress on support for a supplemental appropriation.

Also expected in the supplemental request is an economic development package for the Palestinians, which two officials estimated would be worth $400 million. Washington is hosting an international donors conference for the Palestinians beginning next Monday.

Administration officials emphasized that they have not finished reviewing the funding proposals and have no final figures. State Department spokesman James P. Rubin acknowledged Sunday's meeting between Ne'eman and Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat. The meeting included Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk on the American side and Ilan Biran, the defense ministry's director-general, on the Israeli side.

"We indicated our intention to initiate consultations with Congress on an enhanced - that is bigger - U.S. economic package in support to the Palestinians to bolster Palestinian economic development and to strengthen the prospects for successful implementation of the Wye agreement," Rubin said. "With respect to the figures being thrown out out there, I'm not able to confirm any figures at this point."

Rubin declined to say whether Washington would allow U.S. funds to be spent for construction of special roads for Jewish settlers on the West Bank.

Under previous interim accords, Israel has withdrawn from 27 percent of the West Bank and more than two-thirds of the Gaza Strip without special U.S. assistance.