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US-Palestinian Commission Launched

December 2, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In what could be a warm-up for statehood, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have launched a U.S.-Palestinian commission to channel $900 million in new American aid to the West Bank and Gaza.

The commission held its first meeting Tuesday in Albright’s office at the end of the Palestinian leader’s high-profile visit to Washington in which he again asserted hopes for a state and called east Jerusalem ``occupied territory.″

James P. Rubin, the State Department spokesman, said the new commission with the Palestinians did not establish a state-to-state relationship. He said the aim was a framework for extending U.S. economic aid to the Palestinians through the Palestinian Authority _ $900 million over five years was pledged Monday _ for promoting business, and also promoting cultural and scientific projects.

``We are trying to improve the governing of the Palestinian Authority,″ Rubin said, referring to the Arafat-run organization that oversees Gaza and areas of the West Bank under Palestinian control.

``It was an initial meeting, and we discussed how to organize this process,″ Rubin said.

Albright has taken the lead within the administration to establish what she calls a ``new relationship″ with the Authority. The commission is likely to be a vehicle to arrange for imports of Palestinian goods into the United States without duties.

A follow-up meeting is expected early next year with Albright and Arafat again presiding.

Wrapping up a three-day visit to Washington, the Palestinian leader also met with two powerful congressional leaders: Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., who is expected to be the new House speaker, and House minority leader Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.

Meanwhile, The American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, which often treats Palestinians free of charge, called on the Clinton administration to increase its relief package by providing for health care for the Palestinians.

``To help the Palestinians in their quest for independence, the United States must help Palestinians care for themselves,″ Dr. Stuart Tauber, the executive director, said in a statement.

In his Capitol Hill talks, Arafat said he discussed ``all the problems″ facing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and possible solutions.

Livingston emerged from his first meeting with the Palestinian leader with a clearer ``understanding of the complexity of the issues,″ according to his spokesman Mark Corallo.

Arafat also scheduled a meeting with CIA director George Tenet. Tenet played a central though low-profile role in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that resulted in the Wye agreement last October. The CIA is ensuring the implementation of the accord with special attention to measures promised by Arafat to counter terrorism in areas under his control.

Arafat goes home with pledges of more than $3 billion from 43 nations. The assistance is to be used for water projects, road-building, the construction of a Palestinian airport and seaport and for industrial zones.

The United States intends to increase its contribution by adding $400 million to the $100 million a year it plans to donate over the next five years. The United States has contributed $500 million since 1993. Any U.S. increase would be subject to congressional approval.

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, R-N.Y., expressed concern about how the additional aid would be funded and said the United States should retain control of disbursements rather than give the funds directly to the Palestinian Authority.

``The administration should not seek to reduce funding for other programs in the Middle East to accommodate this initiative,″ Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said in a statement.

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