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New US foreign affairs chairman considers resuming aid to Palestine

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks on 11 February 2016 [NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images]
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks in Washington, US on 11 February 2016 [NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images]

The new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington announced yesterday that the US will consider the resumption of aid to Palestine through the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as part of a push by President-elect Joe Biden for a two-state solution. Israel has long sought to have UNRWA closed down, claiming that the agency perpetuates the conflict with the Palestinians. Outgoing US President Donald Trump's administration backed Israel in this by cutting donations to UNRWA in 2018.

In an interview with Agence France Presse (AFP), Gregory Meeks also voiced support for the return of Palestinian diplomatic representation in the US. Trump closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, also 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," explained Meeks. "So we may need to restart the US assistance to Palestinian people, demonstrating that the United States is ready to lead again."

He added his belief that it is important to work with the Biden administration to review and look at humanitarian areas in which the US can find further dollars to show that it cares about humanity.

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The New York congressman, who is the first African-American to lead the committee, won the position against Representative Joaquin Castro, who had vowed to champion the voice of the Palestinians. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Meeks has been a supporter of Israel despite occasional, rather mild criticism.

Last year, for example, he called Israel's proposed plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank "anathema to a two-state solution" and urged pressure to be put on the Israeli government, using US military aid as leverage to prevent annexation. However, he apparently later reversed his position, telling the American Jewish Committee during an online event in August, "We know the extreme importance in the region to make sure that Israel has the right to defend itself, and the dollars that we give Israel to defend itself are absolute and unequivocal."

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

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