March 1 (Bloomberg) — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arriving in Egypt late today, prepared to announce more than $900 million in aid to the Palestinians as she wades into the Middle East conflict that President Barack Obama has made an early diplomatic priority.
Clinton will join Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, other Arab leaders and European officials tomorrow at a conference to raise money for rebuilding the war-damaged Gaza Strip. A 22-day conflict between Israel and the militant Islamic Hamas movement devastated the coastal enclave.
None of the funds will go to Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel, State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, the location for the conference on Gaza.
“Hamas is not getting any of this money,” Wood said. “We also want to make sure we are giving support to the” Palestinian Authority, he said.
About two-thirds of the money is going to the West Bank, Wood said. The West Bank is controlled by Hamas rival Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas is engaged with Israel in peace talks, which Hamas opposes.
The Obama administration is seeking to strengthen Abbas while shunning Hamas. About $200 million will provide direct support for Palestinian Authority expenses such as salaries, and $400 million is allotted for projects the authority identifies as priorities, Wood said.
The U.S. will give $300 million for humanitarian aid in Gaza, to be delivered through the United Nations and other non- profit organizations not linked with Hamas, Wood said.
In the wake of the conflict in Gaza, Obama is trying to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in a broader effort to stabilize the Middle East. Arab countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are seeking to broker accords to end conflicts such as the standoff between Israel and Syria.
“Not only do we want to address the needs, the very real needs, in the Gaza Strip, but we also want to move forward toward that comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace that President Obama talked about,” Jeffrey Feltman, acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said in Washington before the trip.
The conference will be an opportunity for Clinton to meet many of her regional counterparts that she hasn’t met in Washington since taking office in January. Events will include a meeting on the sidelines for the so-called Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators, which includes the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.
Middle East special envoy George Mitchell will also attend the gathering in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Israel ended on Jan. 18 an air, land and sea assault on Gaza aimed at stopping rocket attacks on Israeli communities by militants in the Hamas-ruled enclave. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel.
Clinton made no public comments during the flight from Washington or upon arrival. She told Voice of America radio earlier that she would make a significant aid pledge for Gaza that wouldn’t benefit Hamas, the U.S. government-funded news service said on its Web site.
Seventy-five countries and international organizations are attending the conference, which is being co-chaired by Egypt and Norway. Saudi Arabia has promised $1 billion in aid and the European Union, another $552 million.
The European contribution will go in part toward humanitarian aid and early recovery work such as removing rubble and unexploded ordinance and caring for traumatized children.
In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s budget for the West Bank and Gaza was $389 million, including $150 million to fund Palestinian Authority expenses such as salaries.
The World Bank today urged donor countries to channel funds for rebuilding Gaza through the Palestinian Authority and five local organizations with “proven capacity” to undertake projects. The groups aren’t linked to Hamas, which won 2006 parliamentary elections across Gaza and the West Bank and then ousted Abbas’s Fatah party from Gaza in 2007, dividing Palestinian governance.
The Bush administration declined to deal with Hamas. Clinton, in remarks to the Voice of America on Feb. 27, suggested President Obama will follow the same course by applying conditions for engagement with Hamas that Bush also required.
Recognition of Israel
While not rejecting a future Abbas-Hamas coalition government, Clinton said the Islamic group must “renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by previous commitments” made by Abbas and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. Hamas has so far refused the three conditions.
Clinton will travel next to Jerusalem and the Palestinian headquarters of Ramallah in the West Bank. There she’ll meet with current governing officials as well as Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Likud party leader asked to form the next Israeli government after elections last month.
Clinton will then shift to European issues as she heads to Brussels, where she will participate for the first time as the top U.S. diplomat in a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on March 5. They will be preparing for a summit of North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders in April that will mark the alliance’s 60th anniversary.
In Brussels, Clinton is scheduled to meet separately with European Union officials, before going on to Geneva to confer with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. She will also visit Turkish officials in Ankara.
Last Updated: March 1, 2009 17:22 EST