The United States announced on Thursday it would provide a five-million-dollar grant to the Palestinians "to meet immediate, life-saving needs in combating COVID-19," breaking away from a freeze of aid funds that has lasted for over two years.
American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in a tweet he was "very pleased" by the decision to provide funds for Palestinian hospitals and households. The United States "is committed to assisting the Palestinian people and others worldwide in this crisis," he said.
A group of senators urged last month President Donald Trump's administration to release funds Congress had allocated for humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in the hope of curbing the spread of the pandemic, as the number of coronavirus cases in Gaza and the West Bank continues to grow.
In a joint letter to the U.S. State Department, six senators from the Democratic Party described the immense damage that an outbreak in Gaza and the West Bank would cause to both the Palestinians and Israel.
The senators noted that Congressional leaders have agreed to allocate at least $75 million in aid to the Palestinians in the budget for the 2020 fiscal year, asking the administration to release that sum, so that the Palestinian Authority could use to fight the COVID-19 spread.
“It is in the national security interest of the United States and in the interest of the Palestinian people and our ally Israel, where there are more than 1,200 confirmed cases, to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the Palestinian Territories,” the senators wrote.
The move was initiated by senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and presidential contender Bernie Sanders of Vermont signed the letter.
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In 2017, the Trump administration cut all funding for humanitarian projects, hospitals, infrastructure and educational initiatives benefiting the Palestinian civilian population. This also included programs in East Jerusalem, which is fully controlled by Israel and is not recognized as part of the Palestinian Authority.
But Congress decided to continue approving tens of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians, while the administration responded by using those funds as leverage over the Palestinian leadership.
The administration, however, continued to provide only limited security assistance to the Palestinians in order to pressure the PA to accept its Middle East peace plan, and in light of Israel's request not to harm Palestinian security forces working in coordination with it to combat terrorist activities.