Palestinian Refugees Welcome U.S. Decision to Restart Aid

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City. (Patrick Gruban)

Palestinian refugees on Thursday welcomed the U.S. announcement that it will renew humanitarian aid, marking a break with the Trump era, while Israel registered objection.

President Joe Biden’s administration said on Wednesday that it will provide $235 million to the Palestinians and restart funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which assists 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees.

It was the clearest sign yet of Biden’s apparent intent to repair ties with the Palestinians, who boycotted the Trump White House for most of his tenure, accusing him of pro-Israel bias.

“We are happy,” said Ahmed Odeh in Beit Lechem’s Deheisheh refugee camp in Yehuda and Shomron. “The former American administration tried to stop these funds to the Palestinian people.”

“Any funding for the refugee camps and the refugees is out of good will and is good for us … people are not working or making money, especially during the pandemic,” said Subhi Allian, 71, outside an UNRWA clinic in Far’a refugee camp near Tubas.

Most UNRWA-registered refugees are descendants of 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.

In a Twitter video late on Wednesday, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, voiced “disappointment and objection” about the renewal of funding to the refugee agency without reforming it.

“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,” he said. “It should not exist in its current form.”

The Biden plan will provide $150 million to UNRWA and agency officials hope it will lead to more donations from the United States and others.

However, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told Reuters that the agency would “still struggle” amid reduced donations from elsewhere and cuts to their overseas development budgets by Australia and Britain.