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New US foreign affairs chair backs resuming aid to Palestinians

Representative Gregory Meeks backs resumption of humanitarian aid to Palestinians, but will not support calls to condition US military aid to Israel
Gregory Meeks is the first Black American to lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Representative Gregory Meeks is first Black American to lead House Foreign Affairs Committee (Reuters/File photo)

The new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee plans to back major policy reversals, including the resumption of humanitarian aid to Palestinians and the return of a Palestinian diplomatic presence in Washington.

Representative Gregory Meeks, in an interview with the AFP news agency on Tuesday, said the moves would be part of a greater push by President-elect Joe Biden for a two-state solution.

Meeks said he supported the return of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, which was shuttered by outgoing President Donald Trump in 2018. 

"I'm a firm believer in the two-state solution, providing both parties with self-determination, because that's the only way I believe that we can ensure a Jewish state of Israel that is viable and a peaceful Palestinian state, where they end up becoming interdependent in trade and other mechanisms," Meeks said during the interview.

"So we may need to restart the US assistance to Palestinian people, demonstrating that the United States is ready to lead again," he said.

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"I think it's important, working with the Biden administration, that we review and look at humanitarian areas of which we can find further dollars to show that we care about humanity."

No conditioning military aid

The Trump administration upended US policy in 2018, cutting off more than $200m in aid to the Palestinians and stopping aid channelled through the UN's Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) that fed and educated Palestinian children.

The moves were part of a staunchly pro-Israel tilt by the Trump administration, which defied international consensus by recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital and backing settlements on occupied Palestinian land, in addition to helping win recognition of Israel by some Arab states.

Meeks played down the prospect of leveraging aid to Israel to pressure it to accept a Palestinian state, AFP reported, saying he did not want to touch a $38bn, decade-spanning defence package approved by former President Barack Obama before leaving office in 2016.

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"I'm not for altering any of those dollars," Meeks said. "There may be other dollars not included therein that we can possibly look at."

In June, more than a dozen US legislators from both chambers released a letter pledging to "pursue legislation that conditions" Washington's military aid to Israel to ensure that Americans "are not supporting annexation in any way".

Biden, however, has not shown much interest in using financial aid as a direct tool to pressure Israel.  

Like the president-elect, Meeks is seen as one of the Democratic leaders who remain largely sympathetic to Israel in a party that has turned increasingly critical as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned further right.

The New York congressman, who is the first Black American to lead the committee, won over Representative Joaquin Castro, who had previously vowed to champion the voices of Palestinians.

Meeks succeeded Eliot Engel, another New York Democrat and a staunch defender of Israel, who lost his seat in a primary challenge from the left.

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