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A Red Sea resort town has seen many conferences, but can this one make a difference for Gaza?
CAIRO, Egypt — When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed Sunday night in Sharm el Sheikh, she brought with her $900 million in U.S. aid for the Palestinians. Total pledges for the Gaza donor conference will ultimately top $4.4 billion.
And almost as soon as Clinton stepped off the plane, she and a cluster of Palestinian, Middle East and European leaders began writing the next chapter in the storied history of unsuccessful conferences held at the popular Red Sea resort town.
“Since Mubarak became President, Sharm el Sheikh has become his place of residence for a good part of the year,” said Walid Kazziha, chair of the Political Science Department at the American University in Cairo. “So often, international conferences have been held there, chaired by Mubarak.”
Former President Bill Clinton and Mubarak held talks there during the 1990s. As with today’s summit, those talks were aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The two leaders met there in 1996 to discuss the crisis along with Palestinian and Israeli leaders. The meeting yielded few results and violence continued to escalate up to the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000.
In a sense, less is at stake with today’s conference. With Israel still trying to form a new government and the Palestinians deeply divided, both politically and territorially, no one expects any grand plan for peace to emerge.
Instead, leaders from around the world are bringing cash to help rebuild Gaza. Clinton has promised $300 million in reconstruction aid to Gaza and $600 million to cover the Palestinian Authority’s budget deficit in the West Bank, Reuters reported.
The European Commission pledged $552.6 million, while the Gulf states promised a collective $1.65 billion over the next five years.
The conference’s efforts have been further complicated by the refusal of many participants to give money directly to Hamas.
Instead, they will give the cash to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who does not have a foothold in Gaza. Abbas, in turn will distribute the funds in Gaza through international aid organizations.
But by doing it this way, there is a risk that the aid, which is badly needed in Gaza, will become politicized and the reconstruction will be slowed.