7 April 2021   Leave a comment

The US is restoring economic assistance to the Palestinian people, a welcome return to traditional US policy of providing humanitarian assistance to a people who are desperately in need of such aid. The Trump Administration abandoned that pattern in a manner consistent with the interests of the Netanyahu government of Israel. That move undermined the US position of trying to be an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. US Secretary of State Blinken made this announcement today:

“The United States is pleased to announce that, working with Congress, we plan to restart U.S. economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people.  This includes $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million for peacebuilding programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $150 million in humanitarian assistance for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).  We are also resuming vital security assistance programs.  All assistance will be provided consistent with U.S. law.  Economic assistance includes support for small and medium enterprises’ recovery from the effects of COVID-19; support for needy households to access basic human needs, such as food and clean water; and assistance for Palestinian civil society.  A portion of this funding will support the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, as it continues to provide necessary and life-saving treatments to Palestinians.  This funding is in addition to the $15 million in humanitarian assistance to address the COVID-19 pandemic and food insecurity the United States announced in March.

“The United States is resuming support for UNRWA’s services, including education for over 500,000 Palestinian boys and girls, thereby providing hope and stability in UNRWA’s five fields of operation in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Funding to UNRWA also provides critical COVID-19 assistance, including healthcare, medicine, and medical supplies, as well as cash and food assistance to families severely impacted by COVID-19.  The United States is deeply committed to ensuring that our partnership with UNRWA promotes neutrality, accountability, and transparency.  As with all of our engagements with UN institutions, the United States needs to be at the table to ensure that the reforms advance efficiencies and are in accord with our interests and values.

“U.S. foreign assistance for the Palestinian people serves important U.S. 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.  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.

“The United States encourages other donors to support programs and activities that work toward a common goal of stability and progress for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

This decision is an important step forward, but it does not appear as if the Biden Administration is willing to go further in undoing the damage wrought by the Trump Administration. In the State Department’s 2020 report on Human Rights, the US does not refer to the “Occupied Territories” (the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights) which Israel seized in the 1967 war. Instead it refers to “the West Bank” and the “Gaza”, and goes further to state: “The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.” It seems as if the Biden Administration does not wish to become heavily involved in the peace process. Nonetheless, Israel remains opposed to aid to the Palestinians, particularly to UNRWA.

Indeed, the State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, created a lot of confusion in a rather contentious press briefing on 31 March on the matter of whether the “occupation” of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip continues. He was forced to clarify his comments the next day in another contentious session with the press:

QUESTION: Thank you. Just to be redundant on the issue of occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, why can’t you say it is occupied, without all the caveats? Can you say that it is occupied, that you acknowledge that position? It’s been like this since 1967.

MR PRICE: Well, Said, and that’s precisely what I said yesterday.


MR PRICE: It is a historical fact that Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights after the 1967 war. That’s precisely why the 2020 Human Rights Report uses that term in the current context of the West Bank. It has been the longstanding position of previous administrations of both parties over the course of many decades. Do we think that the West Bank is occupied? Yes.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Okay. Let me just follow up on that. I mean, if you consider it occupied – I know you’ve taken a very strong position in the past; you’ve called for ending the occupation of the Ukraine immediately and so on. Why can’t you call for this occupation to end immediately and all the human rights abuses that go along with enforcing it immediately? Why can’t you call for that?

MR PRICE: Said, what we are calling for – and this really gets to the root of this challenge – is that two-state solution.


MR PRICE: The two-state solution is precisely what will allow Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in dignity and security, securing the interests – in the interests of Israelis, in the interests of Palestinians together. That’s precisely why are we are supporting this two-state solution, just as previous administrations of both political stripes have.

It is hard to imagine that much progress can be made on US policy toward the Middle East, given the current turmoil in the leadership of major countries. The most recent Israeli election (the fourth in two years) was inconclusive and the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is under indictment on corruption charges. Nonetheless, Israel has decided to keep building settlements in East Jerusalem. Additionally, the Palestinian Authority is scheduled to hold elections on 22 May and its leadership remains in question as well as its overall authority. Moreover, the status of King Abdullah in Jordan and Crown Prince Salman in Saudi Arabia also appears to be in question. The US really has no one in the region in which it can place great confidence right now.

Posted April 7, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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