Biden Administration Resumes Payments To UNRWA; Israel Objects

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GAZA CITY, GAZA - JANUARY 15: A boy sits near the sacks of flours during a food aid distribution by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) at Al-Shati Refugee Camp in Gaza City, Gaza on January 15, 2018. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Biden administration resumed U.S. funding for UNRWA, the U.N. agency that administers to Palestinian refugees and their descendants, overturning Trump administration policy and drawing a rebuke from Israel’s government.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $235 million in aid for the Palestinians in a statement Wednesday, including $150 million for UNRWA, $75 million in humanitarian assistance, and $10 million for peace-building programs.

The money is in addition to $15 million Blinken announced last month that would go to coronavirus relief, and to $40 million that will go to security training for Palestinian police. The Associated Press reported that the Biden administration notified Congress on Monday of the money for security training.

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

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, immediately posted on social media a video saying Israel opposed the re-funding of UNRWA. He cited reports that UNRWA continues to allow anti-Semitic textbooks in the schools it administers and the claim that UNRWA’s definition of a Palestinian refugee is too broad, encompassing descendants of refugees.

“We believe that this U.N. agency for so-called ‘refugees’ should not exist in its current format,” Erdan said. “UNRWA schools regularly use materials that incite against Israel and the twisted definition used by the agency to determine who is a ‘refugee’ only perpetuates the conflict.”

The breadth of the UNRWA definition of a refugee was the reason President Donald Trump cut funding to UNRWA. Biden campaigned on renewing the funding.

The $75 million in humanitarian assistance cited in Blinken’s statement must according to U.S. law not go to the Palestinian Authority as long as it continues to pay families of Palestinians who have killed Israelis or Americans. A workaround is for the funding to go to nongovernmental groups that administer assistance. “All assistance will be provided consistent with U.S. law,” Blinken’s statement said.


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