By Larry Derfner, Mideast Watch
In her first trip to the Mideast, addressing an international donor conference in Egypt to raise postwar rehabilitation funds for the Gaza Strip, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton upheld the U.S. boycott of Hamas, Gaza's radical Islamic ruler. This position may not be final, though: Many observers argue that because Hamas's is the undisputed regime in Gaza, there can be progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace only by recognizing the movement.
Still, Clinton said the $900 million the United States is donating—only $300 million of which will go to Gaza, the rest earmarked for the West Bank—will be funneled through the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority, which, with Israeli military support, holds nominal power in the West Bank. Following the Sharm al-Sheikh conference, Clinton was due to make her first visit as secretary of state to Jerusalem and Ramallah. The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reports on her speech to the conference:
Clinton was adamant that none of that money would go to 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. 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.
Ban Ki-moon Calls Gazan Blockade "Intolerable"
At the conference, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon echoed Arab leaders in saying that Israel must open the border crossings into Gaza to transport of goods if the just over $5 billion in pledged donations were to do much good. As a secondary goal, though, Ban nodded to Israeli concerns by insisting that Hamas be prevented from smuggling weapons into Gaza, adds Ha'aretz:
"The situation at the border crossings is intolerable. Aid workers do not have access. Essential commodities cannot get in," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told donors at a one-day conference on Gaza in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
"Our first and indispensable goal, therefore, is open crossings. By the same token, however, it is therefore essential to ensure that illegal weapons do not enter Gaza."
Netanyahu Urges World to Squeeze Hamas
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu was urging foreign leaders not to give any money to Gaza until Hamas stopped firing rockets at southern Israeli towns, which has slowed down considerably but hasn't stopped as limited fighting continues virtually every day. The Israeli daily Jerusalem Post reports:
After hearing in one meeting that European taxpayers were concerned about investing in Gaza only to see further destruction at the hands of the IDF, Netanyahu explained that Israel tried hard to avoid civilian casualties and targeted only those areas used by terrorists. He then reportedly said he was not willing to sacrifice Israel's security "for a smile."
As Gazan Rockets Keep Flying, Israeli Frustration Grows
The Israeli Army reports that since the January 18 cease-fire, more than 110 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel from Gaza. No one has been injured, but several people have been treated for shock, and over the weekend an upgraded rocket landed in an empty schoolyard, prompting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to issue a warning to Hamas, Ha'aretz reports:
"The cabinet decided that if the firing continues from the Gaza Strip, it will be met with a painful, harsh, strong and uncompromising response from the security forces," Olmert said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Still, voices are being heard among the Israeli public and media that the war, which cost some 1,300 Gazan lives along with 13 Israeli lives, did not achieve its stated purpose of bringing peace and quiet to the country's towns and cities near Gaza. With Netanyahu expected to form a right-wing government soon, expectations are building for another round of fighting. The Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reports on frustrations expressed by reserve soldiers who were in the fighting:
Major "G.," commander of a special forces unit during the war, said: "When we left we were sure that the government had struck some sort of an agreement. It is very disappointing to see what's going on now," he added. "Renewed fighting seems inevitable.
"We should have gone in deeper, into southern Gaza," he continued. "Anyone in their right mind can see where this is going. I'm waiting for the next draft order."
- Read more of Larry Derfner's Mideast Watch.