Eight senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday calling on him “to prevent a humanitarian disaster” caused by the novel coronavirus in the Palestinian Territories.
The Trump administration had cut aid to the Palestinian Territories and the top UN agency working with Palestinian refugees in 2018. Members of Congress are now pressing for that aid to be restored as the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) threatens to overwhelm the Palestinian health system
“The COVID-19 pandemic poses an unprecedented health, diplomatic, and economic threat, and it is in the national security interest of the United States and in the interest of the Palestinian people and our ally Israel, where there are more than 1,200 confirmed cases, to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the Palestinian Territories,” the senators’ letter says.
Progressive firebrand and former 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) led the effort. She was joined by a mix of progressive and moderate Democrats: Chris van Hollen of Maryland, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tom Carper of Delaware, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
Current presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) also signed the letter.
The Monday letter notes that Congress has appropriated $75 million in aid for the Palestinians, and asks how the Trump administration plans to distribute it in the absence of U.S. aid to the Palestinian authorities. It also asks Pompeo whether he has pressed Israeli authorities to loosen their “blockade” on Gaza to allow the import of “critical health related materials and equipment.”
The coastal city of Gaza is controlled by the militant group Hamas. The remainder of the Palestinian Territories, on the west bank of the Jordan River, is under a patchwork of Israeli military control and the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority.
The letter notes that Gaza is “one of the most densely populated areas of the world” and “has a weak public health system.”
There have been 4,831 cases of the coronavirus in Israel and 117 cases in the Palestinian Territories, including several in Gaza.
The Trump administration froze aid to the United Nations Relief Works Agency, which works with Palestinian refugees, in January 2018. The move came as retaliation after the Palestinian leadership refused to participate in U.S.-led peace talks with Israel, according to The Times of Israel.
U.S. authorities later cut off all aid projects in the Palestinian Territories.
The administration is now asking Congress to tie aid to the Palestinians to President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” a peace proposal that would allow Israel to annex large parts of the Palestinian Territories.
Matthew Petti is a national security reporter at the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter: @matthew_petti.