U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her first foray into Middle East diplomacy, declared the Obama administration committed to pushing intensively to find a way for Israelis and Palestinians to exist peacefully in separate states.
She used an international donors conference to issue a blunt call Monday for urgent action to forge a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.
"We cannot afford more setbacks or delays _ or regrets about what might have been, had different decisions been made," she said in apparent reference to the failure of previous peace initiatives, including those pushed vigorously by her husband's administration.
With the Obama administration's Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell, seated behind her at a conference meant to raise billions to help the Gaza Strip recover from its recent war with Israel, Clinton said President Barack Obama would continue the Bush administration's focus on seeking a two-state solution that entails Israel and a sovereign Palestinian state co-existing in peace.
She made it clear, however, that Mideast leaders could count on Obama to take a more active approach than did his predecessor, George W. Bush.
"It is time to look ahead," she said, with an eye on the human aspects of what years of regional conflict have meant for the Palestinians and others.
"The United States is committed to a comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and we will pursue it on many fronts," she said.
Clinton, who is scheduled to travel this week to Jerusalem to consult with Israeli government officials and to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian officials, said the United States was pledging $900 million to the international aid effort for the Gaza Strip. She gave no breakdown of the funds, but her spokesman, Robert A. Wood, said on Sunday that it included $300 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza and about $600 million in budget and development aid to the Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank.
The Obama administration is casting its contributions as a calculated effort to ensure that the money does not reach Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza and is viewed by Washington as a terrorist organization and not a legitimate governing body.
"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," Clinton told the conference. She did not explicitly mention Hamas but alluded to extremist elements.
"It is time to break the cycle of rejection and resistance," she said, "to cut the strings pulled by those who exploit the suffering of innocent people."
The Sharm el-Sheik conference was called in the aftermath of the Gaza crisis, which remains in danger of heating up. Israel ended its air and ground assault meant to halt rocket fire coming from Gaza about six weeks ago with a shaky cease-fire by both sides. Some 1,300 Palestinians _ at least half of them civilians _ and 13 Israelis died in the three-week offensive, officials have said.