[Washington DC Israel News] The Untied States House of Representatives voted Friday, June 22, to withhold $200 million in military funding for Egypt until the Egyptian government demonstrates serious efforts to end weapons-smuggling from Egypt to the Gaza Strip and ends human rights abuses.
The $34.2 billion foreign aid bill, for tfiscal year 2008, was passed by a vote of 241-178. The Senate has not yet taken up the bill.
Egypt gets some $2 billion in annual military aid, though it faces no immediate military threat, and is desperate need of investment in infrastructure, education and health projects for its population of nearly 80 million. Massive U.S. aid to Egypt began following the peace accord concluded between Israel and Egypt in 1981. The Mubarak regime, like other Arab regimes, does not allow meaningful elections, denies rights to the large Coptic Christian minority, persecutes homosexuals and jails opponents for political offences. Use of torture is routine, and deaths in custody are not infrequent. Criticism of the regime can result in jail sentences. Despite the massive aid, Egyptian media regularly disseminate scathing critiques of U.S. imperialism. Violating the peace agreement with Israel, Egyptian media also popularize classical anti-Semitic myths including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which were presented as fact in the Egyptian documentary Knight Without a Horse and the blood libel. On the other hand, the alternative to the relatively enlightened regime of Hosni Mubarak would likely be the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, of which the Hamas is an off shoot. Independents allied with the Muslim Brotherhood won a majority of the seat allocated to opposition parties in the last elections, and secular opposition to Mubarak's ruling party has virtually disintegrated.
The House gesture may have little practical effect, since US foreign policy is generally controlled by the executive. Unless the White House supports the police of sanctioning Egypt, the cuts will be restored in the final version of the bill.
The House bill also stipulates again that no U.S. funds can be channeled to Hamas.
On Monday, the United States ended an aid embargo on the Palestinian government. This was aimed at bolstering Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, while isolating Hamas Islamists, who have taken over Gaza.
The bill also bars U.S. diplomatic operations in Libya until Tripoli pays off families of those killed in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. While it denies Bush's request for more economic aid to Iraq, the bill allocates $1 million to finance a second Iraq Study Group evaluation of the country, where U.S. forces have been fighting since 2003. The first ISG evaluation produced almost no concrete data whatever, and echoed various shibolleths of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.
Earlier this week, U.S. President George W. Bush announced after meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the United States would increase its military assistance to Israel to ensure its "qualitative military edge" and sign a new agreement securing American aid to the country for the next decade. The aid package will be negotiated next month. Presumably, actual implementation of the promises will depend on Israeli compliance with U.S. policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
Olmert told the president that an announcement on the increase in aid would be an expression of American support for Israel against the growing threats to its existence in the region.