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The restoration of US support

Apr 17,2021 - Last updated at Apr 17,2021

The Biden administration has restored aid to the Palestinians, bringing a much-needed relief especially to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which has been reeling from a severe financial crisis.

Biden’s sharp U-Turn from the policies of former US president Donald Trump, who cut assistance to UNRWA in 2018, renewed hopes that the current US administration could restore Washington’s role as a credible mediator in the seven-decade old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

UNRWA provides aid and other vital services, including education and critical healthcare services to some 5.7 million Palestinian refugees in occupied territories, Gaza Strip, Jordan and Lebanon. UNRWA operates a total of 711 schools in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, with over 534,000 Palestine refugee students in attendance. The agency operates a total of 169 schools in the Kingdom.

In a statement released last Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the aid includes $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million for peacebuilding programmes through the US Agency for International Development, and $150 million in humanitarian assistance for UNRWA. 

“US foreign assistance for the Palestinian people serves important US interests and values. It provides critical relief to those in great need, fosters economic development, and supports Israeli-Palestinian understanding, security coordination and stability.  It also aligns with the values and interests of our allies and partners,” Blinken said in the State Department statement.

Since Trump’s severing of aid to UNRWA, Jordan has been adamantly rallying international support for the refugee agency to plug its ballooning budget deficit.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi expressed the Kingdom’s appreciation of the US decision, recognising it as a positive step that would enhance the agency’s ability towards meeting refugees’ humanitarian, educational and health needs, especially that the COVID pandemic has worsened the situation and increased the agency’s financial strain.

Jordan has been championing for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian conflict based on the two-state solution, which guarantees the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the June 4, 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital living securely and peacefully alongside an Israeli state, in accordance with international legitimacy resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.

UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini expressed gratitude for the renewed UNRWA-US relationship and welcomed the funding disbursement.

“UNRWA could not be more pleased that once again we will partner with the United States to provide critical assistance to some of the most vulnerable refugees across the Middle East and fulfill our mandate to educate and provide primary healthcare to millions of refugees every day. There is no other institution that does what UNRWA does, and we are committed to protecting the safety, health and future of the millions of refugees we serve. The US contribution comes at a critical moment, as we continue to adjust to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presents. We encourage all Member States to contribute to UNRWA,” he said in a statement posted on the agency’s website.

The new US administration’s restoration of relations with and aid to Palestinians buoyed hopes of reviving the moribund peace process in a troubled region.

“The United States is committed to advancing prosperity, security, and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians in tangible ways in the immediate term, which is important in its own right, but also as a means to advance towards a negotiated two-state solution,” Blinken said in the statement.

“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,” said Mohammed Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister.

The goodwill gesture from Washington offers a ray of hope for millions of Palestinians and an acknowledgement of UNRWA for its UN-mandated role in providing a critical lifeline to millions who have been subjected to a harsh and injustifiable Israeli occupation.

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