Biden administration pledges $235m in 'critical' US aid to Palestinians, drawing UNRWA praise

Biden administration pledges $235m in 'critical' US aid to Palestinians, drawing UNRWA praise
The Biden administration's pledge of $235 million in aid to the Palestinians comes at a 'critical moment' amid the pandemic.
3 min read
UNWRA's commissioner general said the aid comes at a 'critical moment' [Anadolu Agency/Getty]
The cash-strapped UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA on Thursday praised President Joe Biden for resuming US financial support, saying it came at a "critical moment" amid the Covid pandemic.

"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," the agency's commissioner general, Philippe Lazzarini, said in a statement.

"The US contribution comes at a critical moment, as we continue to adjust to the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic presents."

The Biden administration's decision to restore US aid to the Palestinians to the tune of $235 million marked a sharp break with the policy of his staunchly pro-Israel predecessor Donald Trump who severed all financial assistance.

Its decision to earmark $150 million of that for UNRWA drew particular anger from Israel, which argues that the agency serves to perpetuate the idea of a Palestinian refugee problem in a way that undermines the Jewish state. 

"We believe that this UN agency for so-called 'refugees' should not exist in its current format," said the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Gilad Erdan.

"I have expressed my disappointment and objection to the decision to renew UNRWA's funding without first ensuring that certain reforms, including stopping the incitement and removing anti-Semitic content from its educational curriculum, are carried out," Erdan said.

Read more: Why is Israel denying Covid vaccine to Palestinians? Two words: Medical apartheid

Asked about the Israeli criticism, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the United States took oversight of UNRWA "extraordinarily seriously" and that it would now have "a seat at the table."

The UNRWA chief said renewed US support would help the agency to "fulfil our mandate to educate and provide primary health care 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," Lazzarini said.

Trump's decision to sever all aid had left an enormous hole in UNRWA's finances.

Around 40 countries initially helped fill the gap, but contributions have since diminished and the pandemic has also taken a financial toll on donor countries.

The new US aid pledge is still well below the $355 million contributed to UNRWA in 2016 by the United States, then its largest contributor. 

The State Department spokesman did not rule out further US contributions but said the United States was encouraging other donors to do more.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric welcomed the restored US assistance, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it "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.

Amnesty International recently described the move as a "violation of its obligation as [an] occupying power."

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay connected