Coronavirus Grant to Palestinians Not a Policy Change on Aid Cuts, U.S. Officials Say

But there were political considerations in including Palestinians in a broader coronavirus response package, as the Trump administration still hopes to push peace plan

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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A Palestinian man wears protective gloves and a face mask, reads the Koran alone at the al-Qazazin mosque in the West Bank town of Hebron, April 10, 2020.
A Palestinian man wears protective gloves and a face mask, reads the Koran alone at the al-Qazazin mosque in the West Bank town of Hebron, April 10, 2020.Credit: AFP
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON - The Trump administration’s decision to send $5 million to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank in order to help them fight the coronavirus, does not represent a change of policy regarding aid to the Palestinians, but is rather part of a larger decision to fight the spread of the pandemic across the Middle East, according to sources within the administration.

On Thursday evening, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, announced that the administration will give $5 million to Palestinian hospitals to help them with the threat posed by the virus. The decision made headlines in Israel and abroad because the Trump administration has cut almost all funding to the Palestinians in recent years, after the Palestinian Authority cut all communications with the White House in retaliation for Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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The funding cuts over the years have included tens of millions of dollars that were taken away from hospitals in East Jerusalem that serve Palestinian patients; hundreds of millions of economic aid and support for infrastructure projects; and even $10 million that was intended to support co-existence projects between Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

The only part of the U.S. aid package to the Palestinians that the administration allowed to continue was support for Palestinian Authority security forces, which work together with Israel to thwart terror attacks and maintain stability in the West Bank. The fact that now, as a result of the coronavirus, the administration was willing to make a small gesture towards the PA, is the first such move in over two years.

But sources within the administration clarified on Thursday that the funding decision is part of a broader effort to fight the virus in the Middle East and around the world. The State Department is also providing more than $25 million to Iraq for the same purpose, $13 million to Lebanon, $6 million to Libya, $2 million to Morocco and $8 million to Jordan.

In addition, the administration will spend $18 million to tackle the spread of the virus in Syria, where the outbreak could have particularly disastrous consequences because of the ongoing civil war and the humanitarian crisis within the county. While in most Middle Eastern countries, aid will go to local governments, in Syria it will instead be provided to international organizations that are doing humanitarian work on the ground and in refugee camps.

The decision to include the Palestinians in this broader investment is not, however, totally independent from other political and diplomatic considerations. As reported earlier in Haaretz, the administration is hoping that within several weeks or months, assuming the spread of the virus slows and Israel has a new government, it will be able to continue working on its Middle East plan which was revealed in January.

The Palestinian leadership has so far completely rejected Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and has also made efforts to recruit the Arab world to oppose it. The administration did not condition the $5 million aid package on any policy change from the PA, but the decision will likely remain a one-time issue unless it leads to some change in how the PA engages the White House.