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Covid-19: US announces $15m aid package for Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza

The funds will address 'most urgent, life-saving humanitarian needs', including emergency food assistance for communities struggling under pandemic
Elderly Palestinians wait to receive doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic in city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank on 24 March (AFP)

The Biden administration has announced plans to provide $15m in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The State Department, in a statement on Thursday, said the funds were set to be allocated toward Palestinians' "most urgent, life-saving humanitarian needs", including Catholic Relief Services’ Covid-19 response efforts. 

'This small step in advancing the well-being of the Palestinian people is fully in keeping with American values'

- US State Department 

The money will also support emergency food assistance programmes in communities facing food insecurity which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

"This small step in advancing the well-being of the Palestinian people is fully in keeping with American values," the State Department said. 

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed the move, saying the "urgent, necessary aid is one piece of our renewed commitment to the Palestinian people". 

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"The aid will help Palestinians in dire need, which will bring more stability and security to both Israelis and Palestinians alike. That’s consistent with our interests and our values, and it aligns with our efforts to stamp out the pandemic and food insecurity worldwide."

The allocation comes after several groups of lawmakers urged the Biden administration to pressure the Israeli government to extend its Covid-19 vaccine programme to the Palestinian population it occupies. 

Resetting relations

The State Department did not specify a timeline for when the new US aid would be administered, nor did it detail how exactly the funds would be transferred and to whom. 

Last week, however, a leaked internal draft memo said that the State Department was considering the $15m Covid-19 aid package and suggested the funds could reach the PA by the end of March.

The State Department did not comment on the contents of the memo, but according to the document, the funds are set to be part of a wider initiative that would attempt to "reset" relations with the Palestinians following a turbulent four years under former President Donald Trump. 

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The memo also included details of a strategy that would take a tougher stance on Israeli settlement activities and mentioned efforts "to obtain a Palestinian commitment to end payments to individuals imprisoned (by Israel) for acts of terrorism".

Palestinians who have immediate family members that have been arrested by Israeli authorities receive a stipend from the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO),  not the PA. The value of the stipend depends on the length of the sentence dolled out by Israel's military court, which has a self-reported 99.74 percent conviction rate. 

The payments have been a sticking point between the US and Palestinian leadership, as around 40 percent of the male Palestinian population have spent some time in Israeli prison, according to the PLO, making the payments a regular part of life among many Palestinian families. 

The Biden team's memo also expressed concerns with Trump's approach to negotiating with the Palestinians, which was largely seen as heavily biased toward Israel. 

Since President Joe Biden took office on 20 January, the administration has pledged to resume hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance and work towards reopening the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission in Washington, all of which were halted under Trump. 

Biden's aides have also made clear they want to re-establish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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