UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States said Thursday it is giving $15 million to vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, a sharp reversal from the Trump administration which cut off almost all aid to the Palestinians.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield made the announcement at the U.N. Security Council’s monthly Mideast meeting, saying the money from the U.S. Agency for International Development will support Catholic Relief Services’ “COVID-19 response efforts in health care facilities and for vulnerable families in the West Bank and Gaza.”
In addition, she said, the funds will support emergency food aid to communities in need as a result of the pandemic.
“This urgent, necessary aid is one piece of our renewed commitment to the Palestinian people,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “The aid will help Palestinians in dire need, which will bring more stability and security to both Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
Under former U.S. President Donald Trump, the U.S. provided unprecedented support to Israel, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, breaking relations and slashing financial assistance for the Palestinians. The Trump administration also reversed course on the illegitimacy of Israeli settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians. It did restore about $1 million during the pandemic last year.
Soon after U.S. President Joe Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20, his administration announced that it was restoring relations with the Palestinians and renewing aid to Palestinian refugees, a reversal of Trump’s cutoff and a key element of its new support for a two-state solution.
Thomas-Greenfield said the $15 million in aid is “consistent with our interests and our values, and it aligns with our efforts to stamp our the pandemic and food insecurity worldwide.”
Tor Wennesland, the U.N. Mideast envoy, told the Security Council that “COVID-19 continues to have a devastating effect on Palestinians.”
“In addition to the brutal impact on public health, the recurrent lockdowns, school closures, and reduction of commercial activity have severely undermined living conditions,” he said.
Last Sunday, the Palestinian Health Ministry began administering the first of 61,400 doses of coronavirus vaccines it received from the U.N. World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative to provide vaccines to developing countries. It was a boost to the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority had only secured 10,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and 2,000 shots from Israel for the roughly 3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.
By contrast, Gaza, which has been under Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took control of the area in 2007, had received more than 80,000 vaccines, mostly Russian, from a rival of President Mahmoud Abbas based in the United Arab Emirates.
U.N. officials and human rights groups have said Israel is an occupying power with a responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinian population. Israel says that under interim peace accords, it has no such responsibility. But in recent weeks, it has inoculated over 100,000 Palestinian laborers in the West Bank who have permits to work inside Israel and its West Bank settlements.
Wennesland said the U.N. and its partners will continue to support Palestinian vaccination efforts, expressed appreciation for Israel’s essential role in deliveries, and urged support for the Palestinian COVID-19 response.
U.S. envoy Thomas-Greenfield announced the $15 million contribution as Israel awaits the final results from Tuesday’s fourth parliamentary elections in two years. It was widely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fitness to rule while under indictment. His prospects for victory moved out of reach Thursday as the complete vote count showed Netanyahu and his right-wing allies falling short of a parliamentary majority. His opponents also did not assemble a majority of the 120-seat Knesset.
The U.S. announcement Thursday also follows a virtual meeting Tuesday of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators – the U.S., U.N., Russia and the European Union – to discuss relaunching their long-stalled effort to get Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate a two-state solution to their decades-old conflict.
A brief statement from the four Mideast mediators, known as the Quartet, said envoys discussed returning “to meaningful negotiations that will lead to a two-state solution, including tangible steps to advance freedom, security and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis, which is important in its own right.”
There have been no substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since 2014, and the two sides are fiercely divided over the core issues of the conflict.
Thomas-Greenfield made no mention of a Quartet meeting but reiterated Biden’s support for a two-state solution and said “the United States looks forward to continuing its work with Israel, the Palestinians, and the international community to achieve a long-sought peace in the Middle East.”