Rice: $350M Would Boost Palestinian Projects

Most of the $350 million President Bush (search) has requested for the Palestinians would be directed at specific projects and channeled through the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) said Wednesday.

"The Palestinian people need help and this is the quickest way to do it," she told the House Appropriations' subcommittee on foreign operations.

Mahmoud Abbas (search), the new Palestinian leader, is rooting out corruption, Rice said as she made her appeal for Congress to approve the request as well as $33.6 billion for foreign aid in the 2006 budget and $6.3 billion this year.

"We have no intention of having this money disappear into the night," Rice said. "I know we have concern about corruption."

Rice said a safeguard against misuse is that most U.S. aid will be "project-related," directly targeted for programs to help the economy and not placed in an amorphous authority fund.

"This is not the Palestinian finance ministry of four or five years ago," she said.

She said U.S. aid would reduce the influence of Hamas, a terrorist group that has made strong inroads among the Palestinians and drew strong support in elections last month in Gaza.

Rice was questioned by Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., about whether the Palestinians understand they are faced with a last chance to make peace with Israel. Rice said the election of Abbas shows the Palestinians are tired of missed opportunities and the Bush administration intends to make that point with Abbas.

"I hope this is the leadership that will bring it to fruition," she said.

Bush will meet separately this spring with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, following up talks Rice had with them last week in Jerusalem and on the West Bank.

"It was remarkable to walk into the meetings with Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas and have them start with the same line: This is a time for opportunity and we must seize it," Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier Wednesday.