Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised U.S. President Donald Trump for his decision to withhold funds from the United Nations Relief and Works agency for Palestine refugees, also known as UNRWA, unless the Palestinian leadership changes its position on returning to the negotiation table to end the decades old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu maintained that instead of fulfilling its mandate, UNRWA continues to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem; thus, the organization should be dissolved. He said, “I completely agree with President Trump harsh criticism of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency). UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem. It also enshrines the narrative of the so-called ‘right of return’ in a bid to eliminate the state of Israel. Therefore, UNRWA should pass from the world,” Netanyahu stressed during his weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. The Israeli leader stopped short, however, of backing any immediate halt of funding to the Palestinians, concerned that a deteriorating situation across the Palestinian territories would place Israel and Palestinian Islamist militants on the course of war. That is why, Prime Minister Netanyahu voiced an alternative, in which the United Nations’ main human rights refugee organization, the UNHCR, would receive the funds designated to UNRWA with the aim of supporting “genuine refugees” in need of relief. PM Netanyahu said, “I made a simple proposal: Funding for UNRWA should be transferred gradually to the UNHCR, with clear criteria for supporting genuine refugees and not fictitious ones, as is happening today under UNRWA,” he said.
With the Palestinians bitter over Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Donald Trump threatened last week to withhold financial aid, accusing the Palestinian leadership of “no longer willing to talk peace” with Israel. UNRWA, which receives an annual financial package from the United States amounting to some 350 million dollars, said that while Washington did not inform it of any changes, it has frozen some 125 million dollars intended for the organization, an allegation denied by a US State Department official. While Israel has on several occasions called on the United Nations to dismantle UNRWA, for what Israeli officials claim is an “apparent failure to fulfill its mandate,” the organization’s spokesman Chris Gunness emphasizes that only the U.N. General Assembly, by a majority vote, could change UNRWA’s mandate. A source within the organization explained to TV7 that UNRWA assists some five million registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, alleging that no alternative organization could alleviate the hardships the Palestinians face.