The US administration of President Joe Biden has announced that it will restore aid to the Palestinians and that it will re-establish its diplomatic mission with the Palestinian Authority (PA), almost three years after the Trump administration halted its funding.
During his remarks at the UN Security Council open debate yesterday, the US’ Acting Ambassador to the UN Richard Mills stated that part of the Biden administration’s engagement with Israel and the Palestinians is “renewing US relations with the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian people, relations which have atrophied over the last four years”.
Mills said that the renewal of ties and the continuation of funding are not meant as a “favour to the Palestinian leadership,” but is a move that will benefit the ongoing peace process overall including the Israeli side. “US assistance benefits millions of ordinary Palestinians and helps to preserve a stable environment that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis,” he said.
In August 2018, former President Donald Trump cut all US funding to the United Nations’ Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides aid to around 5.6 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East with funds from UN member states.
Although the UN agency receives funding from its other member states, the US was by far the largest contributor before Trump cut its funds, with its annual $350 million donation having made up around a quarter of the agency’s budget.
The result of Trump’s decision greatly affected the organisation’s operational capabilities, and forced it to cut back on many of its operations due to the subsequent financial crisis it went through.
Mills assured the security council that despite the continuation of aid, the US will maintain “its steadfast support for Israel” and that it will continue to support the “mutually agreed two-state solution, one in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state.”
The ambassador claimed that the vision of the two-state solution, “though under serious stress, remains the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state while upholding the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspirations for a state of their own and to live with dignity and security.”
A key obstacle to the peace process has been the ongoing construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Thousands of new settlement units, ruled illegal under international law, have recently been approved this month by the Israeli government and are set to further impede efforts towards Palestinian statehood.
Mills acknowledged this fact, urging both Israel and the PA to “avoid unilateral steps that make a two-state solution more difficult, such as annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.”
Although many see the Biden administration’s approach as more balanced and mediatory than Trump’s in regard to the region, Biden and his running mate Vice President Kamala Harris are still seen as committed to Israel and its security. Last week, Biden’s national security adviser vowed to Israel that the US would consult with it on all issues relating to the Middle East.