Small but symbolic: US pledges $5 million to help Palestinians cope with virus

After having previously cut all funding, Trump administration offers West Bank hospitals and households aid for ‘immediate, life-saving needs’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian workers clear streets and homes in the West Bank city of Nablus on April 3 2020, enabling measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
Palestinian workers clear streets and homes in the West Bank city of Nablus on April 3 2020, enabling measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

After having previously cut all foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority, the United States on Thursday pledged a small but symbolic one-time donation to the Palestinians coping with the novel coronavirus.

“We are providing $5 million to fund COVID-19 response in support of immediate, life-saving needs for ​Palestinian hospitals and households in the West Bank for Palestinians battling the COVID-19 pandemic,” an official at the US Embassy in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel.

“The United States is leading the world’s humanitarian and health assistance response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding is one element of that broader global effort.”

Washington welcomes the “ongoing exceptional cooperation” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in battling the potentially deadly virus, as well as Jerusalem’s “facilitation of goods and equipment to the West ​Bank and Gaza in support of this effort,” the official added.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said he was “very pleased” with the administration’s offered donation. “The USA, as the world’s top humanitarian aid donor, is committed to assisting the Palestinian people, & others worldwide, in this crisis,” he tweeted.

According to a press release issued by the State Department, the sum comes from the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, an organizational unit within the US Agency for International Development (USAID) that deals with the government’s disaster relief.

The administration of President Donald Trump has been widely criticized for cutting hundreds of million of dollars in financial aid to the PA after relations between Ramallah and Washington soured over the White House’s December 6, 2017, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The US has since cut all aid to the Palestinians, including to Israeli-Palestinian coexistence programs and six East Jerusalem hospitals.

In September 2018, for instance, the administration cut $25 million in funding from the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, saying it would redirect the money toward “high-priority projects elsewhere.”

Illustrative: Gazan Jumana Daoud carries her 7-month-old daughter Maryam at Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem on February 20, 2017, as they meet for the first time since the baby’s premature birth. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

The Palestinians are just one beneficiary of American donations geared at fighting the coronavirus pandemic. As of Thursday, the administration has committed almost $508 million in bilateral “emergency health, humanitarian, and economic assistance on top of the funding we already provide to multilateral and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are helping communities around the world deal with the pandemic,” according to the press release.

“This funding will support critical activities to control the spread of this disease, such as rapid public-health information campaigns, water and sanitation, and preventing and controlling infections in health-care facilities,” it said.

Some countries were promised larger donations, such as Cameroon ($8 million), Nigeria ($21 million) or Italy ($50 million). But most other nations will receive less than the Palestinians, for instance Tunisia ($600,000), Thailand ($2.7 million) and Honduras ($2.4 million).

Earlier this week, the administration announced that it was stopping any payments to the World Health Organization, a move that was widely criticized as hurting global efforts to fight the pandemic.

“For the time being, we will redirect global health and directly work with others,” Trump said Wednesday. “All of the aid that we send will be discussed at very, very powerful … letters and with very powerful and influential groups and smart groups — medically, politically, and every other way.”

On Tuesday Trump said, “We’re going to be helping other nations. We’re going to be helping Italy, Spain, France, other nations. And we’re going to be helping them strongly.”

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