Israel to ask U.S. for $2.2 billion in disengagement aid

By Aluf Benn

Haaretz Correspondent

Tamuz 4, 5764

A delegation of senior Israeli officials that left for Washington over the weekend will ask the American government Monday evening for some $2.2 billion in special aid for the disengagement plan.

The U.S. has already assured Israel in principle that it will provide funding for the military outlays related to the disengagement plan and for developing the Negev and the Galilee, and this week's talks will focus on the details of the aid package, government sources in Jerusalem said Sunday.

About a third of the money would go toward relocating Israel Defense Forces bases from the Gaza Strip to areas within the Green Line, and the rest would go toward developing the Negev and the Galilee. Israel is asking for payments to be spread out over a few years.

The delegation will make the request to an American team headed by Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, the White House official responsible for Israeli affairs. The Israeli delegation includes Prime Minister's Office director general Ilan Cohen, Finance Ministry director general Yossi Bachar and security officials.

The financial aid requires approval by Congress and the Bush administration will have to submit the aid as a supplemental budget in the next few months.

A separate Israeli delegation is holding talks with the Pentagon this week in an attempt to complete a deal on reporting and supervision of arms sales.

Meanwhile, Israeli security officials hope to finalize in the coming days a deal with Egypt to deploy Egyptian border guards along the Philadelphi route on the Gaza-Egypt border for the purposes of preventing arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip. A security official said Israel and Egypt have exchanged letters over the last few days in a bid to finalize the agreement.

The Knesset Likud faction was set to discuss Israel's planned withdrawal from the Philadelphi route Monday, with Sharon participating in the discussion.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who was born in Iran, was interviewed Sunday on Arabic-language television station Al Jazeera for the first time, where he was asked about the future of West Bank settlements.

"Their future will be determined in the permanent settlement, but some of the settlement blocs will be on the Israeli side," said Mofaz. "The blocs and the Jordan Valley are important because Israel is a small country and needs reasonable borders and strategic depth, so that we can still exist here in another 50 years."

Mofaz met Sunday with Quartet representative James Wolfensohn to discuss coordinating the disengagement plan with the Palestinians. Israeli officials are under the impression that Palestinian Minister Mohammed Dahlan has been meeting with different Israeli ministers to extract promises from each one.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom met Sunday with the United Nations envoy to the Mideast and asked him to prevent the Palestinians from carrying out their plan to hold a General Assembly meeting on the West Bank separation fence, where, he said, they planned to attack Israel. Shalom asked that the envoy persuade the Palestinians "to be responsible and be partners to our ambition to turn the disengagement into a stimulus for hope and peace."

The inner cabinet will meet Tuesday to discuss several issues related to the disengagement plan, including the future of the Gaza border crossings, the link between Gaza and the West Bank and the status of the territory evacuated in the northern West Bank. Security officials will tell the cabinet about its work on checkpoints between Israel and the territories. Israeli officials want the project to be funded by international donors.