RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Condoleezza Rice is in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk today to urge reconciliation among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen in this oil-rich region north of Baghdad. And the secretary of state flew from Paris, where yesterday, more than $7 billion was pledged by the international community to help the Palestinians create their own state.
Here to talk to us about that Paris conference is NPR's Linda Gradstein.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: What has been the reaction in the West Bank and in Israel to this huge sum of money, considerably more than the Palestinians even were looking for?
GRADSTEIN: Well, Palestinians are extremely pleased. The Palestinian officials say it shows the commitment of the world to improving their economic situation and to helping them create an independent Palestinian state.
At the same time, they say that unless Israel makes substantial changes on the ground — in other words, removing roadblocks and making it easier for Palestinians to move around the West Bank — that money won't really do all that much good.
Israeli officials also welcomed the money and they say that they want life to improve for the Palestinians and they want an independent Palestinian economy so that Palestinians won't be dependent on Israel. But at the same time, a senior Israeli official said that they won't remove one roadblock unless the Palestinians show that they're really serious about cracking down on terrorist groups.
MONTAGNE: And the conference had barely finished when Israel launched separate air strikes in the Gaza Strip. What about that?
GRADSTEIN: Their target was the small radical Islamic Jihad group, which has been responsible for most of the rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel.
Israeli officials say that over the past year, there have been about 2,000 rockets. These are small, crude homemade rockets. But recently, they say there have been new longer range rockets developed, and it's made life intolerable for thousands of people in the southern Israel. And if the rockets increase their range, it'll get worse.
There has been really a lot of pressure from the Israeli public for Israel to do more. And some Israeli officials are even talking about a widespread military operation in Gaza. It seems that what they've decided, at least as a first step, is to really go after Islamic Jihad. One of those killed in the air strikes was the senior commander of Islamic Jihad. And Israeli military officials are calling the operation a huge success.
MONTAGNE: Of course, the militant Hamas organization continues to control the Gaza Strip. But how much support, eight months on, does it have?
GRADSTEIN: Well, interestingly, a poll published today found that support for Hamas has not decreased significantly despite the sanctions and despite the Annapolis peace conference. One of the ideas of the Annapolis peace conference was to encourage support for the rival Fatah movement.
The sense you get when you travel around the West Bank in Gaza is that people are really fed up with both of those groups. They don't see leadership from Fatah or from Hamas and yet they don't see any alternative.
MONTAGNE: Well, the Annapolis conference was intended to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Has it worked so far?
GRADSTEIN: Not really. I mean, officials on both sides say it's too early; it's all going to take time. There was a meeting last week of the negotiating teams. And that meeting ended up quite acrimoniously with the Palestinians accusing Israel of building 300 new homes in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem called Har Homa, which the Palestinians call Abu Ghneim.
And, in fact, a senior Israeli official says that Israel will continue to build in built-up areas. There's a disagreement with the United States about this, but if Israel is going to keep expanding settlements, Israel says the Palestinians are not doing enough to crack down on militant groups. So it doesn't really seem to have jumpstarted much.
MONTAGNE: Linda, thank you. NPR's Linda Gradstein speaking from Jerusalem.
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