07:41 GMT19 April 2021
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    The rather slow pace in which the new US administration is acting on the Palestinian issue is attributed to the fact that its top priorities lie elsewhere, believes a Ramallah-based expert. But that doesn't mean Washington will not tackle the issue and a change will be seen after the Palestinian legislative and presidential elections.

    Washington announced on Thursday that it would send $15 million in COVID-19 related aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

    The move comes as a first step towards the restoration of financial assistance to the Palestinians that was significantly trimmed during the tenure of former president Donald Trump.

    In 2018, Trump halted the transfer of $200 million to the Palestinians, redirecting them to projects "elsewhere". A year later, he cut $60 million from the annual funds for the Palestinian security services.

    Better Future Ahead? 

    Now, with Joe Biden in office, this policy seems to be changing. Nodal Foqaha, Director General of the Palestinian Peace Coalition-Geneva Initiative, says it goes hand in hand with the earlier promises of the new boss in Washington.

    In his pre-election campaign, Biden vowed to restore all funds to the Palestinians. He also promised to stick to the two-state solution, reopen their representation office in the US and have an American consulate in East Jerusalem operate again, after it was shut down by the former administration.

    "The Palestinians expected to see a set of policy changes from Biden," said Foqaha. "This includes putting focus on the commitment to the two-state solution, restoration of political ties, resumption of financial support and the return to the traditional US position on settlements," he added.

    That, however, is not even in the works. Even before Biden took office in January, he reiterated that some of the policies implemented by his predecessor will not be changed. 

    Such would be the case with the US embassy in Jerusalem that will not be moved to Tel Aviv, where it operated before the 2017 decision of Trump. And, most probably, such would also be the case with the move that recognised the legality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights.

    The resumption of diplomatic ties and the restoration of the financial aid might be in the pipeline but it might take months until it is fully implemented. 

    The problem is that time is a commodity that neither the Palestinian Authority nor Gaza can afford.

    2020 has been an exceptionally difficult year for the Palestinians. Apart from the fact that Washington cut its funding, it has also been done by other donors, including some Gulf states and the EU. COVID-19 has claimed its toll too, shrinking the local economy and pushing many into poverty.

    Drop in the Ocean

    To get themselves out of the financial abyss, Palestinians would need funds, and although Biden's decision to unlock $15 million in aid is perceived as a step in that direction, it is still a drop in the ocean.

    Foqaha explains Washington's slow pace by a different set of priorities of the current US administration.

    "Palestinians are not Washington's top priority. But that doesn't mean the US will not tackle the issue. I believe more attention will be given to the region in the second half of the year, after Israeli and Palestinian elections."

    Israeli elections that were held on 23 March resulted in another stalemate, and Israeli media believe yet another vote might be on the horizon.

    The Palestinian legislative race is set for 31 May, whereas the presidential vote is scheduled for the end of July. Experts say the US will be watching these elections closely and a policy change will not happen until Washington knows who the person in charge is.

    Nevertheless, Foqaha remains optimistic. "There has never been anything worse than the decisions of Trump. The political and financial decisions implemented by the current administration are an indication that Washington is committed to a change and this is already received positively by the Palestinians."

    However, polls suggest otherwise. A recent survey conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research found that 41 percent of Palestinians thought the new boss in Washington would not resume financial aid to the PA and Gaza; 51 percent believe his policies will not be more balanced.

    If this is the case, the Biden administration will need much more than $15 million to convince the Palestinians that his administration is indeed committed to change.

    funds, US, Joe Biden, Palestinians
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