Trump administration provides $5m. aid to PA amid coronavirus crisis

This is the first time that the US would provide aid to the PA since US President Donald Trump's decision to cut all its funding.

US President Donald Trump addresses a gathering of mayors in the East Room of the White House on January 24 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump addresses a gathering of mayors in the East Room of the White House on January 24
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US will provide $5 million to Palestinian hospitals to help combat the coronavirus, Ambassador David Friedman announced in a tweet over the weekend.
It’s just a fraction of the $120m. the Palestinian Authority needs to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and the overall anticipated $1.4 billion PA deficit in 2020.
“The US, as the world’s top humanitarian aid donor, is committed to assisting the Palestinian people [and] others worldwide in this crisis,” he said, adding that the money would go to meet immediate, life-saving needs for combating COVID-19.
This is the first time the US has provided aid to the PA since US President Donald Trump cut all funding to the authority at the start of 2019. US special envoys Jared Kushner and Avi Berkowitz were supportive of the decision and agreed that despite the situation with the PA, it would be the right thing to do because of the global pandemic.
“This is one of many areas in which the US is providing COVID-19-related aid. It will go directly to the hospitals,” an administration official told The Jerusalem Post.
The administration’s decision to help the PA is a part of a wider move to distribute $508m. in COVID-19 aid for dozens of nations across the globe. For the Middle East, the State Department has announced over $25m. in aid for Iraq, $8m. for Jordan, $13.3 for Lebanon, $18m. for Syria and $6m. for Libya.
In December, Congress set aside $150m. for financial assistance to the PA, split between $75m. for its security forces and $75m. for civilian assistance. But that money was never allocated.
The Jewish American group J Street called on the US to transfer the Congressional allocation of $150m.
The $5m. the Trump administration pledged to the PA is “under 7% of what Congress appropriated for Palestinian humanitarian and development aid. If the administration is committed to assisting the Palestinian people, it should release the full amount and stop playing politics when lives are at stake,” J Street tweeted.
“Over the past few weeks, dozens of members of Congress have called on the administration to release ‘all’ appropriated assistance to help the beleaguered public health sectors in the West Bank [and] Gaza combat the pandemic. This transfer falls far short of what’s needed,” J Street said.
The PA was in financial distress before the COVID-19 outbreak, which came in the aftermath of a US decision to cut its annual $500m. contribution, already placing the PA on the verge of collapse.
In addition, Israel last year began withholding from the monthly transfer of tax fees to the PA, an amount equal to the sum of money it spends on monthly stipends to terrorists and their family members.
It’s expected that in light of COVID-19, the amount of money the PA can collect in tax fees will decline, thereby accentuating the crisis.
US Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov has held two conversations with Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to discuss ways his office could help the PA, in an effort to avert its financial collapse.
The Finance Ministry told the Post that it has offered the PA a loan against existing tax fees, but did not specify if that amount was based on the money Israel has deducted due to the Palestinian payments to terrorists.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh tweeted on Thursday that Palestinian domestic income could decrease by 70% and that its tax revenues could drop by 45-55%.
“We called on the Israeli side to transfer NIS 500 million from the tax funds for the next six months. We will reach an agreement on that within days,” Shtayyeh tweeted.
According to the World Bank, the Palestinian economy is expected to contract by 2.5% and that is in the best case scenario. It estimated that the contraction could be as high as 7% if the COVID-19 crisis continued for over four months, the World Bank told the Post.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, a quarter of the Palestinian workforce was already unemployed and 24% of Palestinians lived below the poverty line on $5.5 a day, the World Bank said. COVID-19 only made that worse.
Kahlon last week expressed concern over the PA’s fragile economic situation.
“The situation with [coronavirus] in the West Bank worries us all and could cause a humanitarian crisis,” Khalon said on Thursday after he met with Mladenov and President Reuven Rivlin.
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun and chief of the Coordination Unit of Mladenov's office (UNSCO) Jonathan Lincoln were also involved in the conversation on how best to help the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
The coronavirus “does not differentiate between peoples and geographical areas. The breakdown of health in the PA would impact Israel severely and it is in our interest to assist the PA in this complex situation,” Kahlon said.
At Rivlin’s residence, Mladenov briefed Israeli officials on the UN plan to prevent a humanitarian crisis and spoke of the steps needed to implement it.
Rivlin stressed that “cooperation is not [only] a possible option, it is our fundamental obligation in order to ensure the safety of all our peoples. This disease shows again and again that it does not recognize borders and that only through dialogue and sharing resources can we fight it.”
After Thursday’s meeting Mladenov tweeted, “Thank you @PresidentRuvi for your engagement with the #UN as we tackle the pandemic. Now is the time for all to reach across divides and help fight the common enemy. #Israelis & #Palestinians can and must work together to tackle the health, social & economic effects of #COVID19.”