Clinton Pledges Aid To Palestinians

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is pledging about $900 million to Palestinians, a third of which will help rebuild war-ravaged Gaza. Clinton is in Egypt attending a conference seeking money for Gaza and the Palestinian economy. All the money must be approved by Congress.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Egypt, and that's where she announced today a $900 million aid package for the Palestinians. Part of that money goes to Gaza, which is trying to recover after an Israeli military operation late last year.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): Assistance for the Palestinians is one step up the ladder to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. We must be willing to take this step and many more together until we fulfill that promise.

INSKEEP: That's Secretary of State Clinton today. NPR's Michele Kelemen is travelling with the secretary. Hi, Michele.

KELEMEN: Hi. How are you doing, Steve?

INSKEEP: Okay. Where are you?

KELEMEN: We're in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, though we're not really enjoying the beach much. We're spending a lot of time in a conference center, where Hillary Clinton has been in these back-to-back meetings all day. Egypt is hosting this particular meeting because it borders Gaza. And so the Arab leaders, European leaders and American officials are here talking about how to rebuild this region. And that's part of why Secretary Clinton is here announcing that $900 million.

INSKEEP: Okay. So what is that money - the $900 million - supposed to be used for?

KELEMEN: Three hundred million is for urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza. So this is money that goes through international organizations like the UN. The rest is going to be for the Palestinian Authority to use for it budgetary, security and infrastructure needs. So that can be both in the West Bank and in Gaza. And here's the tricky part, Steve. The US want to do this with this is support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - who's also here - and his Fatah movement without bolstering Hamas, which controls Gaza and which Israel and the West view as a terrorist organization. So Secretary Clinton told officials gathered here that she's working with the PA to make sure this money is used only where and for whom it's intended and does not end up in the wrong hands, meaning Hamas.

INSKEEP: And you're giving us a sense here of the complexity - the political complexity, anyway - of sending humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Gaza. You've reminded us that Fatah is in control of the West Bank, Hamas is in control Gaza. A lot of Israel's neighbors and the neighbors of the Palestinians also have concerns here. And I suppose things become even more complex, or the complexity shows even more at the next stop that Hillary Clinton has.

KELEMEN: That's right. She goes to Israel next. And, you know, the question hanging over all of this even here at the conference is whether Fatah and Hamas will eventually form some sort of unity government. How will the US and Europeans deal with that? A lot of people here have been talking about the need for reconciliation. Secretary Clinton avoided that issue entirely in her remarks to the conference. And so far, her aids have stuck to this line that, you know, the Bush administration set out, and that is if Hamas is to be part of the government, it has to renounce violence, recognize Israel, and recognize previous agreements with Israel. A spokesman told us that, you know, if Hamas becomes part of the government, then we have a problem. That's going to be definitely an issue on the next stop, Israel, as will be the need to even get humanitarian supplies in, because Israel has kept up quite a tight closure of Gaza.

INSKEEP: Is Israel going to allow these humanitarian supplies in if the political situation is not what Israel wants?

KELEMEN: Well, we'll have to see. I mean, Europeans and Arab officials here have been, you know, urging to the US to persuade the Israelis to ease up on the closures. That's something Secretary Clinton's going to have to tackle. We heard French President Nicholas Sarkozy today say that Gaza should not be allowed to be a prison with an open sky. On the other hand, you know, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that he doesn't want to see the international community get into what he called an endless discussion with Israel over getting macaroni into Gaza. He wants to make sure that the broader goals are not lost here, you know, the broader goal of having a viable Palestinian state. And he made clear that his government will only remain viable if it's seen as working toward that and trying to work toward an end of Israeli occupation.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michele Kelemen, reporting from near the airport there in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is travelling today. Michele, thanks very much.

KELEMEN: Yes, thank you.

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