US Restores Assistance for Palestinians, Providing $235 Million in Aid

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM—The Biden administration announced on Wednesday it would provide $235 million in U.S. aid to the Palestinians, restarting funding for the United Nations agency supporting refugees.

The package, including humanitarian, economic, and development assistance, was detailed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The plan calls for $150 million through the United Nations relief agency UNRWA, $75 million in U.S. economic and development assistance, and $10 million for peace-building programs, Blinken said in a statement.

Biden’s aides have also signaled that they want to reestablish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But any further 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 cuts came after Palestinian leaders decided to boycott the Trump administration’s peace efforts over its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The Trump administration also rescinded funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, criticized the renewal of funding to UNRWA, saying that it allowed anti-Israel incitement and anti-Semitic activity in its facilities.

“We believe that this U.N. agency for so-called refugees should not exist in its current format,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.

He said that in conversations with the State Department he had “expressed my disappointment and objection to the decision to renew UNRWA’s funding” without first ensuring that reforms were carried out.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously called for the dismantling of UNRWA.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the hearing for his corruption trial at district court in Jerusalem, Israel, on April 5, 2021. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

The United Nations welcomed the restart of UNRWA funding. “There were a number of countries that had greatly reduced to halted contributions to UNRWA. We hope that the American decision will lead others to rejoin … as UNRWA donors,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

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.

State Department spokesman Ned Price insisted that aid would be allocated “absolutely consistent” with U.S. law. He pushed back against critics who have expressed concern that funds could fall into the hands of militants, especially in Gaza, where Hamas governs, saying there were safeguards in place.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price
State Department spokesman Ned Price gestures as he speaks during the daily press briefing at the State Department in Washington, on Feb. 25, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool via Reuters)

U.S. law also prohibits aid that benefits the Palestinian Authority as long as it continues to pay stipends to Palestinian prisoners held by Israel for anti-Israel attacks or to their families.

Blinken said the United States was also “resuming vital security assistance programs” with the Palestinians.

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