New House foreign affairs chief eyes resuming US aid to Palestinians

Washington (AFP) –


The new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Tuesday he would look to resume humanitarian aid to the Palestinians as part of a push by President-elect Joe Biden for a two-state solution.

In an interview with AFP, Representative Gregory Meeks also supported the return of a diplomatic presence following outgoing President Donald Trump's shuttering of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington.

"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," Meeks said.

"So we may need to restart the US assistance to Palestinian people, demonstrating that the United States is ready to lead again," he said.

"I think it's important, working with the Biden administration, that we review and look at humanitarian areas of which we can find further dollars to show that we care about humanity."

The Trump administration in 2018 cut off more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians and earlier stopped aid channeled through the UN to feed and educate Palestinian children.

The moves were part of a staunchly pro-Israel tilt by the Trump administration which defied the international consensus by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and backing settlements on occupied Palestinian land, in addition to helping win Arab recognition of Israel.

Meeks played down the prospect of leveraging aid to Israel to pressure it to accept a Palestinian state, saying he did not want to touch a $38 billion, decade-spanning defense package approved by former president Barack Obama before leaving office in 2016.

"I'm not for altering any of those dollars," Meeks said. "There may be other dollars not included therein that we can possibly look at."

Like Biden, Meeks is seen as one of the Democratic leaders who remains largely sympathetic to Israel in a party that has turned increasingly critical as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turns right.

The New York congressman, who is the first African-American to lead the committee, won over Representative Joaquin Castro, who had vowed to champion the voices of Palestinians.

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