Biden declares $100 million in assistance for Palestinian hospitals

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Joe Biden delivers remarks regarding the East Jerusalem Hospital Network (EJHN), at Augusta Victoria Hospital, in Jerusalem. Reuters

President Joe Biden has announced $100 million in US assistance for east Jerusalem hospitals that serve as “the backbone” of health care for Palestinians.

He spoke on Friday during a visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital, which provides advanced medical care, including radiation treatment for cancer patients and paediatric kidney dialysis, to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The funding is subject to approval by the US Congress and would pay out over several years. Biden called the six hospitals “the backbone of the Palestinian health care system.” The aid came after the Trump administration slashed $25 million to the hospitals in 2018 as part of a larger suspension of aid to the Palestinians.

Biden has restored much of that assistance since assuming office, but has made no progress in resuming the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which collapsed more than a decade ago. Dr. Fadi Atrash, the hospital’s CEO, called Biden’s visit a “courageous statement of support for the Palestinian people.” Biden was set to meet Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank later on Friday. Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 Mideast war.

The Palestinians want all three for their future state. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognised internationally and views the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, and its fate is at the heart of the century-old conflict.

The six east Jerusalem hospitals, which symbolise the Palestinian presence in the city, have faced a funding crisis in recent years, as the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority has struggled to pay for advanced treatment for Palestinians, according to the Associated Press.

Augusta Victoria Hospital, which is operated by the Lutheran World Federation, ended 2021 in severe debt, with more than $70 million owed by the PA, according to a letter sent to US lawmakers in May. About two dozen pro-Palestinian demonstrators have gathered in east Jerusalem ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit to a local hospital.

The protesters on Friday are holding Palestinian flags and posters of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist who was killed in May while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank. After two days of nonstop meetings with Israeli leaders, Biden is visiting the Augusta Victoria Hospital, which serves local Palestinians, before heading to Bethlehem to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The demonstration is several hundred metres (yards) from the hospital, with Israeli police standing at a distance outside the building. It was not clear if Biden’s motorcade would pass by the crowd. Biden is expected to announce over $300 million in assistance for the Palestinians on Friday. While Biden has voiced support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, there are no plans for any diplomatic initiative to resolve the decades-old conflict.

Friday’s visit marks a tacit acknowledgement of Palestinian claims to east Jerusalem. Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and considers the entire city its capital. But its annexation of the eastern sector, home to the city’s most important religious sites, is not internationally recognised. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

 

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