Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Pro-Israel lobbying groups in the United States - sharply divided on the issue of American funding for the Wye River agreement -- are intensifying their efforts to persuade Congress to take their particular side on the issue.
Mainstream groups want Congress to reconsider its decision to cut the first installment of Wye funding from its Foreign Aid Appropriations bill - a bill that President Clinton vetoed last week.
But other pro-Israel groups want Congress to stand firm in its decision to withhold the funding, hoping this will thwart implementation of the Wye agreement, which calls for Israel to cede additional disputed territory to the Palestinians.
Observers say the congressional decision to withhold Wye funding was a power play between Republican lawmakers and the president. They say it had nothing to do with Israel.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest pro-Israel lobby, is strongly in favor of restoring the Wye funding.
Its office in Jerusalem told CNSNews.com that the Wye funding is on the "top of AIPAC's lobbying agenda."
A spokesperson said AIPAC has mobilized its 55,000 members, located in every congressional district, to pressure Congress to change its mind and provide the $1.9 billion Clinton promised Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan at the signing of the Wye Accords.
The Anti-Defamation League is mounting a publicity campaign aimed at Capitol Hill, sponsoring ads in The Hill and Roll Call emphasizing the importance of the Wye funding.
"The $1.9 billion that the United States has already promised Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan is vital to supporting ongoing peace initiatives, as well as defraying costs that are already being incurred," one advertisement states.
"Further delaying our commitment will put the peace process in danger of being irreparably damaged."
"At this critical juncture in the Middle East peace process, the United States must act responsibly, which means not putting the entire Wye deal in jeopardy," ADL leaders said in a statement.
"As an outspoken facilitator of peace in the Middle East, the U.S. government must stand by its commitments," they added.
The $1.2 billion Clinton pledged to Israel was intended to help cover the security costs of implementing the Wye agreement.
But organizations such as Americans for a Safe Israel believe the peace process - including the Wye River funding -- is not in Israel's best interests.
AFSI's Helen Freedman told CNSNews.com in an earlier interview that the 28-year-old organization's members were "opposed to the Wye funding because [they] are opposed to the Wye accords."
Despite these differences among pro-Israel advocates, the Jerusalem AIPAC office said it believed the Wye funding issue was actually uniting American Jewry.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Barak said the U.S. funding was so "essential" to Israel's security that Israel had already begun to spend it as it worked "intensively" on fulfilling its commitments spelled out in Wye, and the subsequent Sharm el-Sheik accord.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday with visiting Defense Secretary William Cohen, Barak said, "We assume that it's [Wye funding] going to happen," Barak said.
Barak has pledged to implement unfulfilled commitments Israel made with the PA during the course of the peace process, including the handing over of civilian control of seven percent of the West Bank to the PA.
Israel is due to cede control of a further five percent by November 15.
"We are implementing the agreement right now," Barak said. "We are moving our units from certain areas. We already transferred part of the territory. We are going to transfer another chunk of territory in two weeks from now," he added.
Cohen, wrapping up a 10-day tour of the region, assured Israel that the U.S. would fulfill its financial commitments. Since Congress rejected the Wye funding, the administration has been spelling out more clearly its purposes for being involved in the peace process.
Cohen said the Wye aid was not "humanitarian" but necessary for security. He pledged enduring U.S. support for Israel's security needs, stating that a strong Israel best serves U.S. interests in the Middle East.
"We are absolutely convinced that a strong, secure Israel is a pillar of U.S. policy in the region," he told reporters.
"We will allow Israel to take the necessary steps for peace and a just and enduring peace between Israel and its neighbors is critical to long term security in the region."
Cohen said America would maintain a "presence in the region commensurate with the collective threats that we face. We will continue to work to deter would-be aggressors and to respond quickly and decisively if a crisis develops."
Hinting that the Wye funding would not be the end of Israel's financial requirement as it sought peace with its neighbors, Barak maintained that stability in the region would be good for Americans and Europeans alike.
He expressed confidence that the "political support and financial support [would] be found" to carry out other elements of the search for peace in the Middle East.