Obama commits $400M in aid after meeting with Abbas

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. will provide an additional $400 million in aid for the Palestinian-controlled West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

The additional funds were announced as Obama met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. 

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The president’s pledge comes just more than a week after an attempt by a Turkish-based flotilla to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza ended in disaster. Israeli commandos boarded the ships and killed nine people while injuring many others.

Israel claimed the activists aboard the ships first attacked the soldiers with pipes and chairs and that their men were acting in self-defense. Still, the incident touched off a diplomatic crisis for the Jewish state, with several European countries and Turkey condemning its actions. 

Obama has reserved judgment on the flotilla attack until an investigation is complete, but in the meantime has pointed to the Gaza blockade as the root problem. 

The U.S. funds will help increase access to schools, clean drinking water, healthcare and housing and are also designed to help create jobs for Palestinians. They are an answer to the heightened scrutiny of the blockade, as they are designed to ease its humanitarian effects.

In brief remarks at the White House, the president called the situation in the blockaded Gaza Strip “unsustainable” and said it was important for both the Israelis and Palestinians to work together to improve the situation.

“The status quo that we have is one that is inherently unstable, and I think the Israelis have come to recognize that,” Obama said. 

Obama has refrained from calling for an end to the blockade — as a few members of Congress have — citing Israel’s concern that opening it could allow weapons to get into the hands of terrorists.

Reaction from Congress to the announcement was muted.

The Islamic extremist group Hamas, which the United States considers a foreign terror organization, violently took over Gaza in 2007 after Israel unilaterally withdrew from the small piece of land. Israel responded by intensifying its blockade of the territory to prevent Hamas from acquiring more weapons.

“With respect to the broader issue of lifting the blockade, as I said before, I think the key here is making sure that Israel’s security needs are met but that the needs of people in Gaza are also met,” Obama said. 

The United States and Israel both already contribute humanitarian aid to the impoverished Palestinian territories.

Since the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004, the U.S. has supplied the Palestinians with approximately $400 million in aid per year, according to a Congressional Research Service report published in January. 

In December 2009, Congress approved $500 million for Palestinian aid. The funds are subject to oversight requirements because of concerns that the money could go to Palestinian terrorist organizations.

But beyond the short-term aid, Obama expressed hope that Israelis and Palestinians would resume negotiations on a two-state solution, which have stalled due to a dispute over Israeli settlements being built in territory the Palestinians consider their own. 

“But let me make this final point: that in the long run, the only real way to solve this problem is to make sure that we’ve got a Palestinian state side by side with an Israel that is secure,” he said. 

The president called on Israelis to curb settlement activity that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has supported. He also urged Abbas to crack down on violence and incitement of Israelis, who have experienced rocket attacks launched primarily from Gaza.

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