The Biden administration announced on Wednesday it would provide US$235 million in aid to the Palestinians, so 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 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as part of an effort to repair American ties with the Palestinians.
The plan calls for US$150 million through UNRWA, US$75 million in US economic and development assistance and US$10 million for peace-building programmes, Blinken said.
UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, that has supported Palestinian refugees since 1949.
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.
However, the growing refugee count was cited by the Trump administration in its 2018 defunding, as an “endlessly expanding community of entitled beneficiaries”.
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.
Any further major steps are likely to wait until the air clears after Israel’s inconclusive March election, which will be followed by Palestinian elections scheduled in the 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.
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.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office welcomed Biden’s commitment to a two-state solution as well as the renewed aid.
But Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the US and the United Nations, criticised the renewal of funding to UNRWA, saying, “We believe that this UN agency for so-called refugees should not exist in its current format.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Reuters, “A number of countries greatly reduced or halted contributions to UNRWA. We hope that the American decision will lead others to rejoin.”
Blinken suggested that the Biden administration would seek reforms in UNRWA, which the Trump administration accused of inefficiencies, overcounting of Palestinian refugees and perpetuating the decades-old conflict with Israel.
The money that will go to UNRWA does not immediately restore contributions to the US$365 million level that the US gave to the agency in 2017.