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US to restore about $150m in aid to Palestinians

Reuters/Washington
Filed on April 7, 2021
Palestinian children who fled their houses in the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees in south Damascus, sitting inside a children's library in a refugee camp in Lebanon. — AP file

Biden administration wants to re-establish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Biden administration plans to unveil a package of about $150 million in US aid to the Palestinians, restoring part of the assistance that was cut off by then-President Donald Trump, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The aid, mostly to be provided through the United Nations relief agency UNWRA, is expected to be announced by the State Department as soon as Wednesday as part of an effort to repair US ties with the Palestinians that all but collapsed during Trump’s tenure.

Democratic President Joe Biden has made clear he intends to roll back parts of his Republican predecessor’s approach that Palestinians denounced as heavily biased in favour of Israel.

The new administration has previously pledged to resume hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance and work toward reopening the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission in Washington.

Biden’s aides have also signalled that they want to re-establish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in US 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 US embassy there from Tel Aviv, upending decades of US policy.

This included rescinding funding for the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA), 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 restored funding is expected to mostly be funneled to UNWRA while the administration is likely to hold back for now on resuming direct economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority, the sources told Reuters.

The money that will go to UNWRA does not immediately restore contributions to the $365 million level that the US gave to the agency in 2017.

Most of the refugees assisted by UNRWA are descendants of some 700,000 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 former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert criticizing UNRWA over what she called an “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who developed close ties with Trump, has also called for the dismantling of UNRWA.

Biden 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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