Biden to Restore Palestinian Aid, Reopen Diplomatic Missions Shut by Trump, UN Envoy Says

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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President Joe Biden answers questions from reporters in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex, in Washington, January 25, 2021.
President Joe Biden answers questions from reporters in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex, in Washington, January 25, 2021.Credit: Evan Vucci,AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – The United States intends to reopen Palestinian diplomatic missions shuttered by the Trump administration and restore U.S. aid to the Palestinians, acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Mills told the Security Council on Tuesday.

Mills added that President Joe Biden's administration will restore U.S. assistance programs to the Palestinians, suspended by former President Donald Trump, in order to create a stable environment, rather than strictly doing favors for Palestinian leadership.

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Biden's Middle East policy "will be to support a mutually agreed, two-state solution, in which Israel lives in peace and security, alongside a viable Palestinian state," Mills said.

He added peace cannot be imposed, and that diplomatic progress will require mutual consent and cooperation. He noted that in order to preserve the viability of a two-state solution, both Israel and Palestinians must avoid unilateral actions – including "Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and annexation plans, demolition, incitement to violence and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism."

Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, spoke at the Security Council on Tuesday, commenting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying "The only way to achieve real peace is through direct, bilateral negotiations."

Erdan, who spoke for the first time at the Security Council since being appointed ambassador, also condemned the Palestinian Authority's payment to prisoners in Israeli jails: "If you are looking for the real obstacle to peace, look at the Palestinian's long record of incitement and hate. The PA rewards terror attacks against Israeli civilians."

According to Mills, the new U.S. administration will continue to urge more Arab countries to normalize ties with Israel, but recognizes that is "not substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace."

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Netanyahu, Trump and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed sign the Abraham Accords at the White House, September 15, 2020.Credit: TOM BRENNER/ REUTERS

Since August last year, Israel has announced agreements to normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, all brokered by the Trump administration. The Palestinians condemned the moves, calling them a "stab in the back."

Under Trump, Washington cut some $360 million in annual funding for the U.N. agency supporting Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), leading to tens of thousands of Palestinians no longer getting food aid or basic health services the U.S.

"We do not do these steps as a favor to the Palestinian leadership," Mills said. "U.S. assistance benefits millions of ordinary Palestinians and helps to preserve a stable environment that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis."

Most of the money was supposed to support humanitarian and economic projects in the West Bank and Gaza, and was not meant to go directly to the Palestinian Authority. 

Palestinian health workers wearing a protective facemask are pictured in the courtyard of a UNRWA school at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, March 18, 2020.Credit: AFP

The U.S. government's development agency, USAID, has provided more than $5.5 billion to the Palestinians since 1994 for infrastructure, health, education, governance and humanitarian aid programs, all intended to underpin the eventual creation of an independent state. 

In 2019, Trump shut down the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, saying that the Palestinian leadership had "not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel."

In November, the Palestinian Authority announced it would resume cooperation with Israel, which has been suspended since May over Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank. 

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh that as per the understandings with Israel, Israel would freeze construction in the settlements, release prisoners and allow the PA to open its institutions in East Jerusalem. 

Shtayyeh added that the understandings would lead to the transfer of the taxes Israel collects for the PA, which will enable it to pay salaries, pay off debts and funnel money into the health system.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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