Top PLO official warns US, Israel will 'pay price' for UNRWA cuts
Hanan Ashrawi, member of PLO Executive Committee, says Israel and US should refrain from 'gloating' over decision taken by Washington; adds US no longer has role to play in peace process after entering ‘into partnership with the Israeli occupation.'
“I would caution against gloating over all these steps that are taken by the US because both countries will pay the price,” Ashrawi said in an interview with Ynet
The Trump administration announced on Friday it would cease to provide any financial aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which the US and Israel have accused of deliberately bloating the number of bona fide Palestinian refugees.
“This is part of an ongoing policy in which the American administration is doing the bidding of your most extreme, hardline Israeli government,” said the Palestinian activist.
“It is destroying the chances of peace and creating conditions for further conflict, instability, sense of despair and probably even greater violence. So this is one of the most irresponsible, reckless and ignorant decisions taken,” Ashrawi scathed.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Friday that the business model and fiscal practices of UNRWA made it an "irredeemably flawed operation."
"The administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA," she said in a statement explaining the US decision.
Nauert added that the agency's "endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years."
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 Palestinian refugees.
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.
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.
Ashrawi dismissed the US claim that the actual number of genuine Palestinian refugees was closer 500,000 than the commonly-cited figure of 5 million.
“Nobody gave the US or Israel a mandate to define who is a refugee. Of course, there are international definitions and international agreements that apply to all refugees, and you cannot just exempt the Palestinian refugees because you want to serve Israel, Jewish purity. That’s not the case,” she responded.
“These are refugees as defined by international law. They have to be taken care of. It is the international community that is responsible that has set up UNRWA and that was trying to at least maintain some semblance of decent living for these refugees until there is a just solution, an agree solution. You cannot resolve the issue unilaterally by targeting the victims and punishing them even more,” she continued.
Asked whether the US has any further role to play in the peace process, Ashrawi responded categorically.
“How can you accept a mediator or a peace broker that has so blatantly taken sides, has violated international law, has completely bashed and continued to punish a people already in captivity?” she asked.
“The US consistently bashes us in order to appease Israeli priorities. This is not acceptable. So the US is no longer a bias peace broker as we used to say. It has become party to the conflict. It has entered into partnership with the Israeli occupation and it has joined forces with the most hardline, racist components of Israeli body politic ”
Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed as a “very important thing” the US’s announcement on halting funds to UNRWA.
Speaking at ceremony at the Breuer state religious elementary school in Yad Binyamin to mark the beginning of the new school year, Netanyahu attempted to highlight the contrast between Israel’s handling of Israelis uprooted in the 2005 evacuation of the Gaza Strip, and the refusal of other Arab nations to absorb the 700,000 Palestinian who became refugees after 1948.