Biden restores aid package for Palestinians
The Biden administration announced on Wednesday it would provide US$235 million in US aid to the Palestinians, restarting funding for the United Nations agency supporting refugees and restoring other assistance cut off by then-president Donald Trump.
The package, including humanitarian, economic and development assistance, was detailed by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken as part of an effort to repair American ties with the Palestinians that all but collapsed during Trump’s tenure.
It marked President Joe Biden’s most significant move since taking office on January 20 to make good on his promise to roll back some parts of his predecessor’s approach that Palestinians denounced as heavily in favor of Israel.
The plan calls for US$150 million through United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the UN relief agency, US$75 million in US economic and development aid and US$10 million for peace-building programs, Blinken said in a statement.
Biden’s aides have also signaled that they want to reestablish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But any further major steps are likely to wait for the dust to clear after Israel’s inconclusive March election, which will be followed by Palestinian elections in coming months.
The Trump administration blocked nearly all aid after it severed ties with the Palestinian Authority in 2018.
The move was widely seen as an attempt to force the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel on terms the Palestinian leadership branded as an effort to deny them a viable state.
The cuts came after Palestinian leaders decided to boycott the Trump administration’s peace efforts over its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, upending decades of American policy.
This included rescinding funding for UNRWA, which provides aid and relief services to around 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and across the Middle East.
“The United States is pleased to announce that, working with Congress, we plan to restart US economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people,” Blinken said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office welcomed Biden’s commitment to a two-state solution as well as the renewed aid. And Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh wrote on Twitter: “We call upon the US administration to create a new political path that meets the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people.”
But Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the US and the UN, criticized the renewal of funding to UNRWA, saying that it allowed anti-Israel incitement and anti-Semitic activity in its facilities.
“We believe that this UN agency for so-called refugees should not exist in its current format,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump, has previously called for the dismantling of UNRWA.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said the new funding was “extremely welcome” but said the agency was “not yet out of the woods” at a time of increased refugee needs exacerbated by coronavirus pandemic.