Secretary of State Antony Blinken announces his appointment of Gayle Smith as the new State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security as he speaks about U.S. leadership in fighting the coronavirus pandemic at the State Department in Washington, Monday, April 5, 2021. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

US resumes funding to UN agency for Palestinian refugees

US resumes funding to UN agency for Palestinian refugees

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Wednesday announced a resumption of U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, including to the U.N. agency that deals with Palestinian refugees, nearly all of which had been eliminated by former President Donald Trump.

The State Department said it would provide a total of $235 million to projects in the West Bank and Gaza as well as to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA. The administration had previously announced $15 million for the Palestinians to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The resumption in assistance has met opposition in Congress from pro-Israel lawmakers, who say the money may violate U.S. law.

The resumption of assistance was immediately welcomed by the United Nations, UNRWA itself and the Palestinians, while Israel expressed deep concern.

The Associated Press has previously reported that the administration notified Congress of its intent to ramp up aid to the Palestinians, but until Wednesday it had not publicly acknowledged any assistance other than that for COVID-19. The new assistance comes as the administration cements a new Mideast policy that in many ways is directly opposite of the one pursued by Trump.

“The United States is pleased to announce that, working with Congress, we plan to restart U.S. economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. He said the money includes $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million for peacebuilding programs and $150 million for UNRWA.

Blinken sought to forestall congressional criticism by saying that “all assistance will be provided consistent with U.S. law,” but Republican members of Congress are already gearing up to fight the aid. The announcement came on the same day that President Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to a two-state resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict in a phone call with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Blinken maintained that U.S. support to the Palestinians is key to advancing American interests in the region.

“U.S. foreign assistance for the Palestinian people serves important U.S. interests and values,” he said. “It provides critical relief to those in great need, fosters economic development, and supports Israeli-Palestinian understanding, security co-ordination and stability. It also aligns with the values and interests of our allies and partners.”