Monday, March 2, 2009
US shuns Hamas in Gaza aid pledge
Clinton is expected to make the pledges at a donors' conference on Monday [AFP]
The United States is set to pledge $900m for the Palestinians at a donors' conference in Egypt, but only a third of that will go towards reconstruction in the Gaza Strip and none of the money will go to Hamas, who rule the territory.
Robert Wood, a spokesman for the US state department, said the US would pledge $300m at Monday's conference on reconstructing Gaza, to meet "urgent" humanitarian needs in the territory after Israel's military onslaught in December.
Wood said the $300m would be funnelled through the UN and other organisations.
"Hamas is not getting any of this money," Wood told reporters in the Egyptian coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheik, where Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, arrived on Sunday on the first leg of a week-long trip to the Middle East and Europe.
The remaining $600m will be pledged to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.
'Sidestepping the issue'
Analysis and features from Gaza after the war
Washington wants the conference to bolster the authority of Abbas, whose PA governs the Israeli-occupied West Bank but holds no sway in Gaza after Hamas routed forces loyal to Abbas and seized the territory in June 2007.
Marc Gopin, from the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, told Al Jazeera that the donors' conference was "an attempt to demonstrate humanitarian concern".
But, he added, there was "no real addressing of the political fallout in the long run, as to whether there's going to be reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and whether in fact this aid can really ever get in".
"They can't even get in humanitarian aid at this point because the [Israeli] blockade is so severe.
"I think it really sidesteps the whole issue of what the negotiations really were about in terms of breaking the blockade, which is more properly what [US Middle East envoy] George Mitchell should be working on," he said.
Saree Makdisi, the author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, told Al Jazeera that "it sure looks like more of the same" US policy and that there was no difference between Clinton's stance and that of her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice.
"The most surprising thing isn't that there's no difference, it's that there's no difference in spite of the fact that the [incoming] Israeli government has taken an even more belligerent stand" against the Palestinians and on honouring international law, he said.
Donors meeting in Sharm el-Sheik will also be asked to fund a $2.8bn reconstruction plan designed by Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, who wants a large part of the money to be channelled through the West Bank-based government.
Other aid, such as for rebuilding homes, would go directly to Gazans' bank accounts.
The Palestinian Authority already administers foreign aid and has been sending $120m to Gaza each month to cover civil servants' salaries.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general and Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president, are also expected to attend the meeting.
Hamas, which has not been invited to the conference in Egypt, has prepared its own reconstruction plan.
'Different strategy needed'
Blair's trip is his first to Gaza since he became Middle East envoy [AFP]
Blair discusses Gaza future
Meanwhile, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, told Al Jazeera during his first visit to Gaza as Middle East envoy, that a "different strategy" was needed to rebuild the territory following Israel's 22-day war on the strip.
Blair said on Sunday that there "was trauma, but a determination to rebuild".
But he added: "We need a different strategy for Gaza, one that helps the people who want a better life and a better future ... [including] rebuilding infrastructure so that basic life can continue.
"We need to work on getting pledges and get money in...[and] get the politics right because...it is not just about the amount of money pledged, it is also about resolving the political impasse."
No solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be reached until a "credible negotiation process, changes in the West Bank" and a "different, better strategy" for Gaza are in place, Blair added.
Asked in an interview how we will deal with a right-wing government in Israel led by Benyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party, Blair said that Israel had to fulfil its obligations.
"We have to work with whoever the Israeli people elect. Let's test it out, not just assume it won’t work.
"I have discussed the three points [above] and he [Netanyahu] understands we need to take it to a two-state solution."
Blair's trip is his first to Gaza in the 18 months since he became envoy to the Middle East for the "Quartet" group of peace negotiators comprising the US, UN, EU and Russia.
More than 1,300 Palestinians, at least of a third of that number women and children, died during the war on Gaza, which Israel launched with the stated aim of preventing rocket fire from fighters based in the coastal territory.
At least 13 Israelis, three of them civilians, were killed.
However, rocket fire is still occurring and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, on Sunday vowed a "painful" response if the attacks on southern Israel did not stop.
The rockets "will be answered with a painful, harsh, strong and uncompromising response from the security forces", he said at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting.