Report: US to end all funding to UNRWA
Announcement expected to be made within coming weeks as Trump administration calls for Palestinian refugee aid organization to implement reforms, reduce number of registered refugees, thereby removing stumbling block in peace negotiations calling for 'right of return' of descendants of 1948 Palestinian refugees.
The announcement is expected to include reasons explaining the administration’s disapproval of the way the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spends its money.
A critic of UNRWA since taking over the White House, the Trump administration’s reported planned announcement comes as part and parcel of a larger policy shift aimed at reexamining the US foreign aid spending.
UNRWA has become the subject of significant scrutiny since President Trump entered the White House.
After appointing his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a Mideast advisor charged with formulating a long-awaited peace initiative to put an end to the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the UN refugee organization appeared to occupy a significant spot on his radar.
In an internal email recently published by Foreign Policy magazine, Kushner called for a "sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA."
"This (agency) perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn't help peace," he reportedly wrote in an email dated January 11.
The agency was founded in 1949 after the first Arab-Israel war—the War of Independence—in the wake of the exodus of around 700,000 refugees who fled or were driven out of Israel on its founding as a state.
The nascent state of Israel absorbed Jewish refugees who were expelled or who fled from neighboring Arab countries, while other Arab states refused to grant the Palestinians citizenship.
As a result, UNRWA now looks after more than 5 million descendants of those original refugees, in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said UNRWA should be abolished and its responsibilities taken over by the main UN refugee agency.
Israel argues that UNRWA perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem by grossly inflating the number of bona fide refugees.
Since the agency includes descendants of Palestinian refugees from the War of Independence, it grants refugee status to Palestinians according to a criteria that is not adhered to in any other refugee question.
Last week, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley appeared to question the world body's count of Palestinian refugees.
By casting doubt on what some describe as an inflated number of Palestinian refugees, the US is removing a central stumbling block that has frustrated peace negotiations in the past, which calls for the so-called “right of return” of the millions of Palestinians defined as refugees.
Palestinians have clung to the notion that the refugees and their descendants should be allowed to settle in Israel as part of any peace deal, a precondition Israel says is designed to destroy its Jewish majority and therefore eradicate the Jewish state.
For Nikki Haley, however, the decision to withhold funds to the organization also stems from the Palestinians’ “bashing” of the US, despite the fact that it has for years been the chief financial donor to UNRWA.
“First of all, you’re looking at the fact that, yes, there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance, but more importantly, the Palestinians continue to bash America,” she said during a conference at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Moreover, Haley has also expounded the administration’s view that other Arab countries should be be taking greater responsibility to assist the organization rather than leaving it to the US to pay the lion’s share of financial aid which amounts to one third of the total budget.
“Where is Saudi Arabia? Where is the United Arab Emirates? Where is Kuwait? Do they not care enough about Palestinians to go and give money to make sure these kids are taken care of?” Haley asked.
Some in Israel have even tougher criticism for the organization, accusing UNRWA of teaching hatred of Israel in its classrooms and tolerating or assisting Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
In July last year, the agency said it was investigating after finding 20 rockets hidden in one of its vacant schools in the Gaza Strip.
Jordan said on Thursday it would lead a campaign to raise funds for UNRWA to help it survive after the United States cut its funding.
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said a meeting next month in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly would mobilize support for UNRWA to continue core education and health services.
"Any shortage in funding will drive hundreds of thousands towards deprivation and despair," Safadi, whose country has 2.2 million UN registered Palestinian refugees, said in Amman after meeting Pierre Krahenbuhl, the UNRWA head.
Earlier this week, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary General Saeb Erekat accused the US and Israel of waging a “war against the Palestinians by financial pressure” after the Trump administration announced last weekend that it would be cutting more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians.