The Biden administration’s decision to provide hundreds of millions dollars in aid to the Palestinian people is doubly welcome. It offers relief to a population plagued by poverty and lack of opportunity, and it heralds a reversal of the Trump administration’s unbalanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the aid would consist of $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, $10 million for peace-building efforts through the U.S. Agency for International Development and $150 million in humanitarian assistance for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency that serves Palestinian refugees and their descendants throughout the Middle East.
The Trump administration stopped contributions to the agency after Trump tweeted: “We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.” And for years previously there has been bipartisan criticism of the relief organization, particularly relating to textbooks in its schools that deny the existence of Israel.
But such concerns never justified cutting off humanitarian aid to desperate people. Nor did Trump’s withdrawal of support improve the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. By contrast, as Blinken noted, aid to the Palestinians “supports Israeli-Palestinian understanding, security coordination and stability.”
The restoration of aid also confirms that, unlike the Trump administration, the Biden administration sees the urgency of persuading the two sides to negotiate a solution in which Israel and a Palestinian state would peacefully coexist.
The Trump administration gave lip service to that idea and even released a proposed map of how the region should be divided (heavily favoring Israel). It preferred, however, to focus on diplomacy that led to agreements between Israel and some Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates. Although those agreements were a real accomplishment, they did little to advance what Trump once called the “ultimate deal” — a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Blinken said the aid to Palestinians would be provided “consistent with U.S. law,” and a State Department spokesman pointed out that aid would be administered through “trusted independent partners on the ground” rather than “government or de facto government authorities.” But a group of Republican senators led by Ted Cruz of Texas is demanding that the new aid be paused until the Agency for International Development ensures that none of the funds will go to the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.
The aid should certainly be administered carefully, and Congress must exercise legitimate oversight. But there is no reason for the Biden administration to hesitate in reversing a policy that was not only foolish but also cruel.