The U.S. Congress would consider an Israeli request for $1 billion to help offset potential security risks from the transfer of more land to Palestinians, U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Monday.
"In the past, Americans have always been helpful when there's an opportunity to expand peace . . . I think you'll find we'll be helpful again," he told reporters on the third day of an Israel visit.A spokeswoman for Gingrich confirmed remarks he made to the newspaper Ha'aretz saying he would "certainly consider" giving the aid on an emergency basis as part of a peace agreement.
Israeli media say that during a visit to Washington this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the need for $1 billion to help pay for bypass roads and other security measures through-out the West Bank.
Asked if the issue was raised in his talks with Israeli leaders, Gingrich said: "We chatted about many things in those talks."
Gingrich is visiting Israel as part of a congressional mission to mark Israel's jubilee year.
He toured Jerusalem with the city's Israeli mayor, Ehud Olmert, driving past the controversial Har Homa Jewish settlement project at the edge of Arab East Jerusalem without stopping.
The United States has been trying to persuade Israel to support a U.S. plan calling for a handover of 13 percent of West Bank territory to Palestinian control. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has accepted the proposal.
Gingrich, a Republican critic of Democratic President Clinton's attempts to broker a Middle East peace deal, said Washington should not go beyond its role as facilitator.
"I think it's up to two neighbors to have a negotiation, with the United States as a friend and a facilitator but I don't think we should be a third party. I think that would be a mistake," he said.
The United States gives Israel $3 billion in economic and military aid each year, more than any other country receives.
In Damascus, the state-run newspaper Tishreen condemned Israeli plans to settle more Jews in the occupied Golan Heights and placed the blame squarely on Netanyahu for blocking all roads to peace.
"While the regional Jewish settlers' council was announcing a new plan to settle more Israelis in the Golan to change its demographic balance, Netanyahu was engaged in making fresh threats and provocations against Arabs," the daily said.
Netanyahu's remarks that he would keep the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967, as well as other occupied Arab lands showed that he did not want peace.
"Netanyahu has blocked the way in advance for any U.S. effort to persuade him to accept agreements and pledges (made by his predecessors). He came to power to destroy the peace process and he has succeeded in doing so," Tishreen said.
The paper said Netanyahu was able to continue his "anti-peace" policies because of what it called the U.S. administration's failure to take firm action against him.
It said a second reason was "the collusion of some U.S. officials who devoted themselves to the Zionist lobby like the U.S. Congress speaker Newt Gingrich, who is declaring his blind support for Israeli aggression and hostility towards Arab rights."
An official for the Golan Heights settlers regional council said on Sunday a campaign to settle more Israelis in the Golan would begin on Monday with the sale of state-subsidized homes.