The Biden administration seeks to undo the steps undertaken by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Biden administration announced on Wednesday it would provide $235 million in U.S. 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 U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as part of an effort to repair American ties with the Palestinians that all but collapsed during Mr. Trump’s tenure.
It marked Democratic President Joe Biden’s most significant move since taking office on January 20 to make good on his promise to roll back some components of his Republican predecessor’s approach that Palestinians denounced as heavily biased in favor of Israel.
The plan calls for $150 million through the United Nations relief agency UNRWA, $75 million in U.S. economic and development assistance and $10 million for peace-building programs, Mr. Blinken said in a statement.
Mr. Biden’s aides have also signaled that they want to re-establish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But they have moved cautiously so far, and any major steps are likely to wait for the dust to clear after Israel’s inconclusive March election, which will be followed by Palestinian elections scheduled 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 recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S.embassy there from Tel Aviv, upending decades of American policy.
This included rescinding funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (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 MiddleEast.
U.S. funding resumes
"The United States is pleased to announce that, working with Congress, we plan to restart U.S. economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people," Mr. Blinken said.
Ahmed Abu Huly, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said he would be holding a Zoom meeting with U.S. State Department official Richard Albright to express appreciation for the "very important support" and said he hoped it would continue.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said: "In respect to UNRWA, Israel’s position is that the organisation in its present form perpetuates the conflict rather than helping to resolve it. Therefore, the renewal of assistance to UNRWA must be accompanied by substantial and vital changes to its nature, goals and organisational conduct."
The United Nations welcomed the restart of UNRWA funding. "There were a number of countries that had greatly reduced to halted contributions to UNRWA. We hope that the American decision will lead others to rejoin … as UNRWA donors," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told Reuters the new funding was “extremely welcome” but said it was also important to have the United States back as "strategic partners"politically.
Vital programs for Palestine
Mr. Blinken said the United States was also "resuming vital security assistance programs" with the Palestinians but did not elaborate.
However, the administration is likely to hold back for now on resuming direct economic aid to the Palestinian Authority while Mr. Biden’s aides consult with Congress on potential legal obstacles, according to one person familiar with the matter. The notice to Congress assured lawmakers that all assistance would be consistent with U.S. law.
The money that will go to UNRWA does not immediately restore contributions to the $365 million level that the United States gave to the agency in 2017.
Most of the refugees assisted by UNRWA are descendants of some 7,00,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.
The growing refugee count was cited by the Trump administration in its 2018 defunding, with then-State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert criticising UNRWA over what she called an “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.”
Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who developed close ties with Mr. Trump, has also called for the dismantling of UNRWA.
Soon after Mr. Biden took office, his administration began laying the groundwork for restored relations with the Palestinians as well as renewed aid. Mr. Biden’s aides are crafting a more detailed plan to reset ties, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters in mid-March.
The administration announced late last month it was giving $15 million to vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
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