Biden administration to restore aid to Palestinian refugee agency: report

Biden administration to restore aid to Palestinian refugee agency: report
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The State Department is reportedly planning to announce that the U.S. will restore funding to the United Nations program for Palestinian refugees, reversing a Trump-era policy.

The move by the Biden administration will provide an estimated $150 million in assistance to the program, formally called the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The announcement, which could come as soon as Wednesday, is expected to accompany the restoration of an estimated $125 million to other humanitarian assistance programs for Palestinians appropriated by Congress. That funding includes $75 million to support economic development and $10 million for people-to-people programs approved by lawmakers in 2020.

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An estimated $40 million frozen from 2016 and 2017 for security assistance will also be delivered.

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE ended U.S. assistance for Palestinians in 2018, and eliminated support for UNRWA, the primary humanitarian program for an estimated 5.7 million Palestinians who claim refugee status as descendants of refugees from Israel’s 1948 war of independence and against Arab nations at the time.

The U.S. in 2018 was contributing about 30 percent of the UNRWA budget and in 2017 provided an estimated $360 million.

Trump's decision was celebrated at the time by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE as well as and right-wing, conservative and pro-Israel groups that criticize the U.N. agency as perpetuating the Palestinian refugee issue and say it should be absorbed into the U.N.’s main refugee agency.

UNRWA is autonomous in many ways, providing education, food assistance, health care and business loan programs for Palestinian refugees who are spread across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Biden administration officials had earlier committed to restoring aid to Palestinians that was severed under the Trump administration, and announced last month $15 million in humanitarian assistance for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The restoration of aid is also a strategy of “trust and goodwill,” an administration official earlier told The Associated Press, as part of the Biden’s team support to achieve a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

Communication between Palestinians and the U.S. broke off completely during the previous administration, following Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there. 

Palestinians hope to establish a capitol in east Jerusalem for a future Palestinian state and the status of the city is considered unresolved absent a negotiated two-state solution with the Israelis.