WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said the situation in the Gaza Strip was "unsustainable" and that he would budget an additional $400 million to improve conditions there and in the West Bank.
Obama and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a meeting here Wednesday discussed the aftermath of Israel’s deadly raid last week on a Turkish-flagged ship ferrying aid and activists to Gaza Strip in order to break Israel’s blockade of the strip.
Israel maintains the blockade to keep weapons out of the hands of Gaza’s Hamas rulers, and also to squeeze Gazans into withdrawing support for the terrorist group.
"The situation in Gaza is unsustainable," Obama said in a joint appearance with Abbas. "I think increasingly you’re seeing debates within Israel recognizing the problems with the status quo. And so President Abbas and I had very extensive discussions about how we could help to promote a better approach to Gaza."
Among other measures, Obama said he would soon announce an additional $400 million "for housing, school construction, business development — not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank."
The United States currently supplies about $500 million in assistance to the Palestinians. Any funds disbursed in Gaza are administered through nongovernmental organizations vetted for any ties with Hamas.
Obama had planned the meeting with Abbas to talk about advancing from U.S.-brokered proximity talks with Israel to direct talks, which both the United States and Israel would prefer.
Abbas said he was willing to advance to such talks once the proximity negotiations had "progressed," although he did not outline what would constitute progress.
Obama said he continued to press the sides to recognize each others’ advances. On the Israeli side, he said success means "curbing settlement activity and recognizing some of the progress that has been made by the Palestinian Authority when it comes to issues like security. It means on the Palestinian side — and I was very frank with President Abbas that we have to continue to make more progress on both security as well as incitement issues."
Abbas said the Palestinian Authority had "nothing to do with incitement against Israel." The PA government has dismissed hundreds of teachers and preachers who peddled anti-Israel invective, but there are reports that its official media continues to occasionally feature inflammatory rhetoric and images.
Abbas was set to meet Wednesday evening with leaders of U.S. Jewish groups.
Obama is planning to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the end of the month.