Biden resumes Palestinian aid, pledges to press for two-state solution

Photo: AP

President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced the United States would resume funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees that his predecessor Donald Trump had severed, news wires reported. In a call with Jordan's King Abdullah II, a longstanding US ally, Biden "affirmed that the United States supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," a White House statement said.

The State Department said the United States would contribute $150 million to the UN agency and offer $75 million in economic and development assistance for the West Bank and Gaza as well as $10 million for peacebuilding efforts.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US assistance to the Palestinians "serves important US interests and values" as "a means to advance towards a negotiated two-state solution.""It provides critical relief to those in great need, fosters economic development and supports Israeli-Palestinian understanding, security coordination and stability," Blinken said in a statement.

Israel, which had held off on criticism of Biden in his first months, denounced the assistance to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, which provides housing, schools and other care to more than six million Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

"We believe that this UN agency for so-called 'refugees' should not exist in its current format," said Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the United States. Israel argues that the education provided by the UN-backed schools includes incitement against the Jewish state.

The Israeli anger comes as the United States takes part in indirect, European-led talks in Vienna with Iran on returning to a denuclearization deal which was bitterly opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Palestinian leadership hoped that the aid would mark the start of a concerted effort by Biden to pressure Israel, including on stopping settlements in the occupied West Bank. "We are eagerly awaiting the resumption not only of financial assistance but of political relations with the United States to allow the Palestinian people to achieve their legitimate rights for an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital," Mohammed Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, said.

The latest announcement is still well below the $355m contributed to UNRWA in 2016 by the United States, then its largest contributor.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric welcomed the restored US assistance, which German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said "sends the right signal" amid growing needs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new funding is in addition to $15 million earlier announced by the United States in Covid assistance to the Palestinians amid criticism that Israel, a leader in vaccinating its own people, has not taken similar initiatives in territories under its occupation. Israel argues that vaccination is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority.

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