By Ron Finkel AM, Chair, Project Rozana Australia & International
There is a new ‘sheriff’ in town. With Joe Biden due to take over the US presidency on January 20, 2021 there is every indication that the restrictive policies of President Donald Trump will be eased or removed. In particular, policies that relate to the funding of health services for the Palestinians.
How do we know this? Essentially, in two ways. The first is from the people who are likely to be tasked with delivering on the promises made during the presidential campaign. The second is from the US Congress, which has been working diligently on a number of initiatives that were in contrast to the decisions of the Trump Administration.
Although nothing is set in concrete, given that many of the appointments signalled by the Office of the President-elect must be endorsed by Congress, we are confident that the people likely to lead the Biden initiatives will survive the process.
In particular I refer to Tony Blinken, the incoming Secretary of State.
In a recent interview, Secretary-elect Blinken said the new administration would restore aid for Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority. The renewed funding will include funding for the East Jerusalem Health Network (EJHN) that was cancelled by Trump in 2018.
This was also noted by Vice-President-elect, Kamala Harris. During the presidential campaign Ms Harris said,
“We will take immediate steps to restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people (and) address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
I wrote at the time that refusing to honour $25 million earmarked for the six hospitals not only put lives at risk, but caused untold harm to a medical establishment that was financially and administratively independent of the Palestinian Authority.
It also placed an added burden on the Israeli health system which has long been assisting the Palestinian health system to build its own capacity. This is both altruistic and practical – ensuring that the well-regarded EJHN can accommodate Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza also relieves over-stretched Israeli hospitals of patient loads.
In July of this year, an initiative presented to Congress set the stage for meaningful funding of the Palestinian health system. The Middle East Partnership for Peace Act will provide $250 million over five years for cross border Israel-Palestine programs, of which $110 million will be allocated to ‘people to people’ initiatives. This is the space that Project Rozana is active.
It is waiting on bipartisan approval in the Senate, which could happen in a matter of weeks if the annual budget is approved in the so-called ‘lame-duck’ session of Congress (the period between the election and confirmation of the new Administration).
I want to particularly note the pivotal lobbying effort of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) and its Washington DC-based Director, Kevin Rachlin. Kevin worked tirelessly with Senators, House Representatives and their staff on this formidable and critically-needed funding initiative.
The Biden-Harris team is also set to make significant and positive changes to the health status of Palestinians through USAID. This is one of the world’s largest development agencies. Project Rozana USA had a $1.2million project proposal ready to submit to USAID before cross-border programs between Israel and the West Bank that were part of its Office of Conflict Mitigation and Management were stopped by the Trump Administration.
The importance of fully-functioning health services in the West Bank cannot be over-estimated, especially during a global pandemic when so many lives have been compromised and lost.
Health is a cornerstone of society, never more so than now.