WASHINGTON – The US is pressing for a new strategy for increasing the
goods to Gaza and is boosting aid to Palestinians there while seeking to
the moves as achievements for the Palestinian Authority rather than
US President Barack Obama said he was looking for a “new conceptual
framework” for handling the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, at a press conference
following his meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday.
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called the current situation “unsustainable” and indicated he would be
consulting with Europe and Egypt, as well as the PA and Israel, to
“There should be ways of focusing narrowly on arms
shipments, rather than focusing in a blanket way on stopping everything
in a piecemeal way allowing things into Gaza,” he said, rejecting the
Israeli model for controlling trade and supplies into the Strip, even as
acknowledged Israel’s legitimate security concerns and stopped short of
for the blockade to be lifted.
In implementing a new approach, he
continued, “it seems to me that we should be able to take what has been a
tragedy and turn it into an opportunity to create a situation where
Gaza are directly improved.”
To that end, the White House announced Wednesday
that it was contributing an additional $400 million to Palestinians.
largest chunk is allocated for mortgage assistance in the West Bank,
smaller projects were dedicated to rebuilding schools, agriculture
and sewage systems in Gaza.
Aid groups there have said rebuilding from the
December 2008/January 2009 war between Israel and Hamas is one of the
The White House statement began by stressing that “these
initiatives result directly from the advocacy and guidance of President
Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whose leadership is making a
for the Palestinian people, in Gaza as well as the West Bank.”To help
Gaza without helping Hamas
There is concern
in the US, as well as among Israelis and in the PA government, that any
steps taken to ease conditions in
Gaza in the wake of the deadly Israeli raid to stop a flotilla from
blockade there would benefit Hamas.
The US and its partners are looking to
carefully calibrate any changes in Gaza policy so they don’t boost the
of the Islamist group.
Obama emphasized that the only true solution was
the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
going to be dealing with these short-term problems, but we also have to
eye on the horizon and recognize that it’s the long-term issues that
have to be
focused on,” he said.
But the depth of that challenge was underscored by
Wednesday’s meeting, whose top agenda item was supposed to be the
indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians and an administration
move to direct negotiations.
Instead, Gaza has dominated coverage
surrounding the meeting and constituted a major issue in the
between Obama and Abbas, first in a one-on-one format and then including
officials from both sides.
After the meeting, Abbas urged that the
“Israeli siege of the Palestinian people” be lifted, and praised the
aid as a “positive sign” that the US was concerned about Palestinians.
also said that “what we care about is living in coexistence with
Israel, however, has expressed frustration that while it has long agreed
to direct talks, the Palestinians have refused.
In the press conference,
Abbas denied that the Palestinians had placed any conditions on moving
negotiations, saying instead that “we agreed that should progress be
then we would move on to direct talks. We are working in order to make
Obama said that in the meantime, Israelis and Palestinians have to do
the work necessary to create the conditions for peace.
“Both sides have to
create an environment, a climate that will be conducive to an actual
breakthrough,” Obama said, adding that this meant the Israelis must curb
settlement construction in disputed areas and the Palestinians must make
progress toward security and ending incitement.
Ahead of the Abbas-Obama
meeting, White House officials hosted an Orthodox Union leadership
assured them that the issue of Palestinian incitement would be addressed
Obama’s discussions with Abbas, both privately and publicly.
very serious about it,” OU Washington director Nathan Diament said of
incitement issue, following the morning meetings. He said he was pleased
response, given the importance of the issue.
Abbas was expected to hear
from Jewish leaders directly as part of a private dinner being organized
S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace on Wednesday night.
visit was scheduled to follow a similar one from Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu last week, but the prime minister canceled his trip to deal
aftermath of the flotilla raid, which occurred the day before the
Netanyahu is due to return to Washington at the end of the month,
where he is expected to be pressed for progress on working out the new
AP contributed to this report.