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In first under Biden, US announces $15 million in aid for Palestinians

Envoy delivers news in her 1st address at Security Council monthly briefing on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, during which she laments that same attention not given to other issues

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

A Palestinian pupil walks past United Nations Relief and Works Agency, (UNRWA) and USAID humanitarian aid, on June 6, 2010 in the Shatie refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
A Palestinian pupil walks past United Nations Relief and Works Agency, (UNRWA) and USAID humanitarian aid, on June 6, 2010 in the Shatie refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced Thursday that Washington will send $15 million in COVID-related humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The package will be the first such funds transferred under the Biden administration, which has vowed to restore financial assistance to the Palestinians that was cut almost entirely by former president Donald Trump.

“With this assistance, the US Agency for International Development is supporting Catholic Relief Services’ COVID-19 response efforts in healthcare facilities and for vulnerable families in the West Bank and Gaza,” Thomas-Greenfield said in an address to the UN Security Council’s monthly briefing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, her first as envoy.

“In addition, this assistance will support emergency food assistance programming to communities facing food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield at UN Headquarters in New York on March 1, 2021. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

“This urgent, necessary aid is one piece of our renewed commitment to the Palestinian people. The aid will help Palestinians in dire need, which will bring more stability and security to both Israelis and Palestinians alike. That’s consistent with our interests and our values, and it aligns with our efforts to stamp out the pandemic and food insecurity worldwide,” she added.

A separate State Department statement also noted that the US has already donated $2 billion to the UN-backed COVAX initiative that works to vaccinate populations in developing countries. The Palestinians received their first shipment of inoculations from the program earlier this month.

Plans to send the $15 million aid package were first reported earlier this month by The National, which retrieved an internal Biden administration memo that outlined its initial policy approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Taylor Force Act passed by the US Congress in 2018 bars Washington from sending aid that will directly benefit the Palestinian Authority as long as Ramallah continues sending regular stipends to those convicted of acts of terrorism. However, the humanitarian aid announced by Thomas-Greenfield would not violate the legislation, which the Biden administration has vowed to uphold.

Then-US president Donald Trump (L) and PA President Mahmoud Abbas leave following a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

The $15 million package also mirrors the COVID-related assistance sent to the West Bank and Gaza in the Trump administration’s final months.

Before the Trump administration began tightening the screws on the PA in 2018 for refusing to engage with its peace efforts, the United States was the single largest donor country to the PA.

The US paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the PA’s creditors, such as the Israeli state utility companies from which the Palestinians purchase water and electricity. It also paid for training for the PA’s security forces and numerous infrastructure projects.

Washington also gave hundreds of millions a year in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency — known as UNRWA — which is in charge of administering the daily needs of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants across the Middle East. The Biden administration has stated that it plans to restart funding to UNWRA as well.

Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Joe Biden after their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, March 10, 2010. (AP/Bernat Armangue)

The UN envoy used the opportunity to address what she viewed as the Security Council’s disproportionate focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “There are other issues in the region that are threats to international peace and security and deserve more of this council’s attention,” she said.

“Let me be clear,” Thomas-Greenfield added, going on to reiterate a sentiment she conveyed at her Senate confirmation hearing earlier this year. “Not all criticism of Israel is illegitimate. But too often, that criticism veers dangerously into anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism, as with all forms of hate, works directly against the cause of peace. So, we will vigorously oppose one-sided efforts.”

In the rest of her speech, Thomas-Greenfield repeated some of the Biden administration’s already announced policies on the conflict. She said the US would continue to support Israel while also advancing a two-state solution that would allow Palestinians to fulfill their right to self-determination.

She urged both sides to avoid unilateral steps that would make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve. This, she said, included settlement expansion, home demolitions, incitement to violence, providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism and all acts of violence.

Thomas-Greenfield said the Biden administration will continue re-opening diplomatic channels to the Palestinians that were severed by Ramallah, which began boycotting the Trump administration after it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

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