WASHINGTON - Uncle Sam isn't paying any of the direct costs of Israel's Gaza withdrawal - but it could ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $3 billion.
Israelis estimate that the bill for the pullout will be about $2 billion to move settlers and the military, plus an additional $500 million for improvements in Gaza.
The United States has not agreed to pay for any of that.
But President Bush signaled in an interview with Israeli television last week that the U.S. was weighing seriously a recent Israeli request - believed to be for $2.2 billion - to help develop lands around Negev and Galilee in southern Israel, where many displaced settlers would be relocated.
And Israel's ambassador to the UN, Danny Gillerman, said yesterday that his country had asked for $500 million to help with the costs of the Gaza pullout.
Last spring, Congress made a special appropriation to give the Palestinian Authority $200 million, mostly to help it prepare for independent rule of Gaza, on top of a $150 million annual aid outlay.
Israel is America's largest aid recipient, getting about $2.3 billion a year.