World News

Biden Could Unlock Aid Money for Palestine, but Won’t

Two Republicans are blocking $75 million of food aid for Palestine, citing concerns about terrorism. If the UN doesn’t get the money soon, over a million refugees could go hungry by mid-October. Biden has the authority to unblock the money — so why won’t he?

Palestinians receive their food at the aid distribution centre run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the southern Gaza Strip refugee camp of Rafah, on September 16, 2022. © Anas-Mohammed /

September 08, 2023 00:53 EDT

As the Netanyahu regime piles abuse upon abuse on Palestinians — the latest outrage involving the strip-searching of women in their own homes — lawmakers are playing a political game in Washington, DC.

Two Republicans, Senator Jim Risch, from Idaho and Representative Michael McCaul, from Texas, are withholding approval from $75 million of food aid to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) administers the aid. The justification for their action — backing the long-held view of successive Israeli governments  — is that the UN’s humanitarian aid for Palestinians aids and abets terrorism.

Senator Bernie Sanders, from Vermont and Representative André Carson, from Indiana, led a bicameral cohort of 63 Democratic senators and representatives. On August 29, they wrote to Senator Risch and asked him to release the hold, citing rising food insecurity and cuts to the World Food Programme budget:

Food insecurity in Gaza is already at a tipping point following the WFP’s decision to reduce assistance from 300,000 Gazans down to 100,000 — necessitated by that agency’s overall funding shortage. Helping to assure the provision of food assistance to refugees in need is yet another reflection of American values as well as in diplomatic and security interests of the United States.

As of today, the hold remains in place. A UNRWA source told Arab Digest:

If the $75 million is not obligated shortly, a “break” will be triggered in the UNRWA food pipeline as early as mid-October and 1.2 million Palestine refugees, including almost half a million children, will cease receiving food aid. UNRWA food represents 60% of Gaza’s overall monthly commodity imports; as a result the cessation of these imports also risks severe damage to the Gaza economy writ large.

The source said the next ten days are “critical.”

While President Joe Biden reversed many of the draconian measures visited on the Palestinians by Donald Trump, he has yet to intervene and use his executive powers to override the hold. Writing in The Hill, the Middle East Institute’s Khaled Elgindy notes that “Biden does indeed have the authority he needs to disburse the funds over Risch’s objections. But this will require taking a stand and expending at least some political capital on an issue — the Palestinians — that has not been a political priority for the administration thus far.”

Elgindy may be understating when he writes that Palestine and the Palestinians are not a political priority for a president whose only meaningful intervention in the Middle East has been to take up Trump’s Abraham Accords and attempt to fast-track Saudi Arabia’s recognition of Israel with only the thinnest of commitments to the Palestinians. As Jon Hoffman noted in Arab Digest’s Wednesday podcast, were such a deal to be realized,

regarding the Palestinians writ large, they will as always come out on the short end of this entire deal. And this is what the Abraham Accords were designed to do. They were designed to sideline Palestine and sideline the Arab public or the Arab Street, whatever term you prefer, while coordinating high-level cooperation between political elites in the Middle East who want to preserve the status quo. And that also extends to political elites in Washington. The Palestinians will as always get the short end of the stick.

One might have thought that, as extremists in the Netanyahu government like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich rampage at will and behave more like terrorists than ministers, the Biden administration and indeed Senator Risch would find their absolute support for Israel to be somewhat tenuous. That does not yet appear to be the case. Rather, it seems to be the opposite.

Biden, or his secretary of state Antony Blinken, could have overridden the Risch/McCaul hold at any point during the past several months. It is after all an attempt to hold civilians, many of them children, hostage to political maneuvering, using food as a weapon. Failing to call the Republicans out ensures more misery for Palestinians and more instability at a time when the actions of the Israeli government are further destabilizing an already dangerously volatile situation.

As Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and the rest of the gang of fascists Netanyahu has assembled openly collude in and campaign for illegal land seizures, home demolitions and deliberate and daily humiliations such as the strip search, the Biden administration responds by scolding lightly. In Britain, meanwhile, the ongoing abuse of Palestinians has produced from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly only a stolid silence.

[Arab Digest first published this piece.]

[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


Only Fair Observer members can comment. Please login to comment.

Leave a comment

Support Fair Observer

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.

In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.

We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money.
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.

Will you support FO’s journalism?

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

Donation Cycle

Donation Amount

The IRS recognizes Fair Observer as a section 501(c)(3) registered public charity (EIN: 46-4070943), enabling you to claim a tax deduction.

Make Sense of the World

Unique Insights from 2,500+ Contributors in 90+ Countries

Support Fair Observer

Support Fair Observer by becoming a sustaining member

Become a Member