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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

U.S. rescinds part of loan guarantees to Israel

It's the fence
NY Times: The Bush administration, in a rare rebuke to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has decided to rescind $289.5 million in American-backed loan guarantees for Israel as a punishment for illegal construction activities in the West Bank, the Israeli Embassy announced Tuesday.

An embassy spokesman in Washington said Israel had accepted the reality that some of its construction activities in the West Bank were inconsistent with American policies and had agreed to deduct the $289.5 million from the $3 billion in loan guarantees that was due to Israel this year.

Although it was the United States that took the action on the loan guarantees, the announcement was pointedly made by Israel. After the Israeli statement, a White House spokesman said the Bush administration welcomed what Israel had done, and expressed gratitude for its acknowledgment that its activities in the West Bank were inconsistent with American policy.

Further, the White House maintained, Israel's agreement on the guarantees represented the "close and continuous cooperation" between the countries — a statement reflecting the extreme political sensitivity in Washington to taking any action that might upset American supporters of Israel.
Yeah, and we rule the world.

Yediot Ahronot (Hebrew only):
The U.S. government has decided not to penalize Israel over the route of the security fence. The aid cut equals the amount Israel spends on civilian construction in the settlements. However, a further cut related to the security fence is possible in the future. The Israeli Embassy statement said, "Israel understands that the U.S. should not finance directly, or indirectly, activities with which it does not agree."
The Washington Post adds this:
After weeks of discussions between the White House and Israeli officials about a range of vexing issues, White House aide Elliott Abrams met secretly with Sharon in Rome last week to press him to take some unilateral steps to assist the Palestinians.

Since the meeting, Sharon has said Israel would not take steps to disturb a Palestinian cease-fire, if one is achieved; pledged to dismantle settlement outposts more energetically; and even suggested moving some settlements as part of a final peace deal.

The administration has also pressed the Palestinians to begin implementing a six-point package of incremental security steps first outlined by Mideast envoy John S. Wolf in August. The measures include closing tunnels in Gaza used by smugglers, freezing bank accounts of militant organizations, collecting arms at checkpoints manned by Palestinians, and shutting down mortar and rocket factories.

U.S. officials have told the Palestinians that this package could be carried out without provoking a civil war, and Arafat is said to agree with that assessment, officials said.
Right. Arafat's going to shut down mortar and rocket factories.

From Aljazeera:
The Higher National Security Council, headed by President Yasir Arafat . . . pledged. . . to create a committee. . . to draft a plan. . . to help ensure. . . the Palestinian Authority meets security commitments under the stalled US-backed “road map.”

Still, it defined no specific steps to improve security less than 24 hours after Palestinian gunmen killed two Israelis guarding the Apartheid wall.

In the West Bank city of Jenin, a spokesman for al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group linked to Arafat 's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the attack.