SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday that U.S. aid for the Palestinians was part of a broader effort to build a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace.
In her address to an international donors conference to rebuild Gaza, Clinton announced U.S. aid of more than $900 million for the Palestinians overall and said stringent safeguards were in place to ensure no funds went to Hamas.
“Our response to today’s crisis in Gaza cannot be separated from our broader efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace,” Clinton said in prepared remarks for the conference in the Egyptian coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
“Only by acting now can we turn this crisis into an opportunity to move us closer to our shared goals,” added Clinton, on her first trip to the region as the new top U.S. diplomat.
Later on Monday, in her first foray into Middle East peacemaking, Clinton will go to Israel and the West Bank.
Of the more than $900 million in U.S. funding, which has to be agreed by the U.S. Congress, only a third was earmarked specifically to provide urgent humanitarian aid for Gaza after Israel’s military offensive in December.
Clinton was adamant that none of that money would go to the militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza and which Washington labels a terrorist organization.
“We have worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure our funding is only used where and for whom it is intended and does not end up in the wrong hands,” she said.
A key goal of the U.S. funding is to shore up the Western-backed government of President Mahmoud Abbas, who governs the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
“We will work with our Palestinian partners, President Abbas and Prime Minister (Salam) Fayyad to address critical humanitarian, budgetary, security and infrastructure needs,” said Clinton.
Of the U.S. package, $200 million will help cover budget shortfalls of Abbas’s government and $400 million for economic reform and private sector and other projects on the West Bank.
Palestinian factions are in reconciliation talks to form a unity government that could include Hamas.
Clinton reiterated a U.S. demand that to be recognized in that government, Hamas must recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.
She said by providing humanitarian aid to Gaza the United States wanted to foster conditions in which a separate Palestinian state could be fully realized.
“This positive approach I have just outlined offers an opportunity for even greater progress if our Palestinian partners can continue to work with us and abide by the (Palestinian Authority) … commitments to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist,” she added.