In a quiet move bypassing Republican obstructionism, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has approved the release of $75 million in crucial food assistance for Palestinians just hours before the funds were set to be redistributed elsewhere.
Blinken’s decision came after months of pressure from Democratic lawmakers and dozens of civil society groups, who warned that blocking the aid would create a humanitarian disaster for over one million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
The aid had been held up by Republican Senators who are said to be seeking to use the funds as leverage for political concessions. Senator Jim Risch and Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republicans on the Senate and House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committees, have since late July been blocking the State Department from providing the funds to the UN’s Palestine refugee agency (UNRWA).
UNRWA has been a frequent target of Republicans. After he assumed office, President Joe Biden reversed ex-President Donald Trump’s efforts to squeeze off funding to the UN agency and Palestinians generally.
Risch led legislation alongside 13 other Republicans in February seeking to have the US halt all funding for UNRWA unless Secretary of State Antony Blinken certifies every 180 days “that UNRWA meets strict accountability and transparency criteria.”
UNRWA thanked Blinken for the funds that will sustain its food distribution through early 2024. “Thank you [Blinken] for providing $75 million in food assistance to Palestine refugees in Gaza! This generous support from the American people will allow UNRWA to continue this critical aspect of its humanitarian and human development work through the end of Q1 2024,” said UNRWA
While Republicans have long demonised UNRWA to score political points, accusing it of anti-Israel bias, the evidence shows the agency’s aid is a lifeline preventing malnutrition and desperation for Palestinian families.
Blinken’s approval of the funds came after US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, announced an additional $73 million in funding to support UNRWA’s core and emergency services.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini has said that the funding crisis for Palestinian refugees in Jordan and other host countries has created an “absolutely unbearable” situation that could soon approach a tipping point.
Lazzarini said that the agency required between $170 and $190 million just to keep its activities in Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza and elsewhere running until the end of the year.