Mar 02 2009
By Daoud Kuttab
blogging with the US secretary of state’s press corps in Sharm el Sheikh
Despite the clarity of the conference title the US will provide far more help to the Palestinian Authority and the people of the West Bank than to the people of Gaza In a press briefing on the eve of the “International conference in support of the Palestinian economy of the reconstruction of Gaza” Robert Wood, the Acting US state department spokesman failed to convince the US traveling press corps and a Palestinian blogger that America is indeed coming to help the people of Gaza.
Wood tried to describe how the “over $900 million” that will be pledged in the conference to be held in Sharm el Sheikh Monday will be spent. But it was clear that most of this money will not make it to Gaza. The spokesman was also not sure how much of the 900 million dollars are old money (already pledged by previous administration) or new money.
Apparently only one third of the monies to be pledged by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make it to Gaza. Wood told the press corps that $300 million will go for urgent humanitarian needs in response to the UN Gaza appeal. He indicated that this money will be channeled through UN agencies, and through USAID. A further $200 million will be pledged to help cover basic budget support of the Palestinian Authority. The PA is expecting a $1.6 billion deficit in 2009. A further $400 million will be provided to support the Palestinian Authority’s Reform and Development Plan. These funds will go into institutional building as well as in support of the public security efforts of General Dayton. Dayton, a senior US military officer has been leading an effort to revamp and rebuild the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.
Wood and the US secretary of state appear to be camouflaging their plans to bolster the Palestinian Authority’s grip of power in the West Bank with the waving of a hefty pledge, the majority of which will never make it to help the people of Gaza. When I pressed Wood to explain if he could guarantee that the Israelis will not damage the work done by the reconstruction of Gaza, he said that he is not willing to speculate the answer. When asked if he favors the opening of the Gaza –West Bank corridor which was an agreement signed by the previous administration, Wood said that this falls within the long term plans of the new US administration. When pressed to explain the wisdom of the reconstruction of Gaza while the Israeli blockade is still in effect, Wood appeared to defend the claims that the Israelis have legitimate security concerns. Wood refused my characterization that the blockade is a punitive act and has nothing to do with security.
Politically, the new US administration appears to be still stuck in the policies of the Bush administration when it comes to a possible Palestinian unity government. Wood repeated ad nasum the need for Hamas to accept the three conditions set by the quartet namely to recognize Israel, renounce violence and to accept previously signed agreements. When pressed by reporters that the Europeans – who are part of the quartet- appear to have softened these conditions, Wood refused to budge. The spokesman insisted that the US doesn’t want to send mixed signals to Hamas. Wood insisted that any future Palestinian government as well as Hamas (if they are members of it) must address all three conditions. He was not worried that the US is going to be on a collision course with their European partners.
The Gaza reconstruction conference will be a one day event March 2, attended by at least four heads of state and tens of foreign ministers and senior officials. It is expected the conference will produce pledges of nearly 3 billion US dollars.
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