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Biden announces aid, reiterates support for two states during Bethlehem visit

Jerusalem24 – US President Biden announced a number of measures aimed at “improving the day-to-day lives of the Palestinian people” during a joint press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Friday.

Abbas and Biden issued separate statements during the conference held at the PA’s presidential compound in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.

Biden reaffirmed US commitment to a two-state solution although “the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations,” while Abbas queried, “is now not the time for this occupation to end?”

Abbas stated the Palestinians “look forward” to the US “[stopping] unilateral actions that undermine the two-state solution,” while Biden asserted the PA “has important work to do” to “improve governance, transparency, and accountability.”

US promoting “steps to improve lives”

While dismissing a political solution as remaining a long way off, Biden stressed the need for Palestinians to see more immediate economic improvements.

“We cannot wait for a peace agreement to be reached or for every issue to be resolved to deliver on the needs of the Palestinian people that exist today,” said Biden.

As part of a $316 million aid package, the US will provide $201 million in funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN agency whose mandate is providing essential services to around 6 million Palestinian refugees across Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. UNRWA has been facing an annual $100 million shortfall threatening its operations, particularly since former president Trump cut all funding to the Palestinians in 2018.

A further sum of up to $100 million will fund the severely indebted East Jerusalem Hospitals Network which provides specialized care to Palestinians from the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. According to a factsheet released by the White House, the fund is subject to congressional approval and should be disbursed over several years.

An emergency $15 million will address food insecurity for vulnerable Palestinians in the wake of rising food prices due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Among non-financial measures, Biden announced Israel would increase by 1,500 the number of work permits for Gazans to work in Israel, bringing the total number to 15,000. Biden also announced Israel had approved family reunification for 5,500 Palestinians previously unregistered on the Palestinian Population Register.

Biden also said the US was “engaging with Israel around ways to spur greater Palestinian economic growth,” with an aim to roll out 4G infrastructure across the West Bank and Gaza by the end of 2023.

According to Biden, Israel has also agreed to enable access to Allenby Bridge (the sole border crossing for West Bank Palestinians heading out of Palestine) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by 30 September 2022. In addition, Israel “will consider steps to establish Palestinian Authority presence on Allenby Bridge while maintaining Israel’s security considerations.”

Finally, Biden announced two new grants under the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) aiming to “foster people-to-people ties” by implementing projects “establishing the environment necessary to achieve long term peace.”

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