The U.S. Administration announced this weekend that after a careful review of the “issue”, it has “determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA,” the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. In a written statement by the U.S. State Department, Spokeswoman Heather Nauert explained that when Washington made a contribution of 60 million dollars in January, it was made clear that the United States was “no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs,” as was the case for many years. While several countries, have tried to address the problem, they were unwilling to fill the gap, a reality that has proven the overall international response as
“insufficient.” Furthermore, “the budget gap itself and failure to mobilize adequate and appropriate burden sharing, the fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years – primarily UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries – was deemed by the Trump administration as “simply unsustainable.” That is why, “the United States will no longer commit further funding to UNRWA, which it defined as an “irredeemably flawed operation.” While its decision to end all contributions to UNRWA is final, the United States emphasized that it would intensify international efforts to advance, what the statement described as, “new models and new approaches, which may include direct bilateral assistance from the United States and other partners, that can provide today’s Palestinian children with a more durable and dependable path towards a brighter tomorrow.”
In response to the American decision, the European Union and several other countries, have announced that they would take immediate steps to make-up for the shortfall. Among regional states, Jordan, which is the country most impacted by the financial cut – as it hosts the highest number of Palestinians that receive financial benefits from UNRWA – condemned the decision. The Hashemite Kingdom’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi emphasized the importance of international support, claiming ‘UNRWA is both a humanitarian and political issue.’ “UNRWA is a humanitarian issue on that side. UNRWA is also a political issue. Maintaining UNRWA is maintaining the international commitment inherent in international law. We do believe in the concept of burden sharing – that everybody else in the international community needs to step up and pay their share to the refugees. But we are certainly very cognizant of the extremely dangerous consequences of failing UNRWA and not enabling it to go forward,” Netanyahu said.
Joining in condemning the United States, the Palestinian leadership described the American decision as an “attack” on the Palestinian people and noted that they would consider taking the matter up with the United Nations.
In Israel, however, Washington’s decision was warmly welcomed, from the coalition and the opposition alike. During a ceremony marking the start of Israel’s new school year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the United States for halting, what he referred to as, ‘an organization that perpetuates the refugee problem.’ Netanyahu stressed that while Israel had, during its 70 years, absorbed many Jewish refugees from around the globe that integrated through the assistance of the state, the Palestinian refused to integrate into their respective societies and created a unique situation, with the assistance of UNRWA, that became part of the problem, rather than a solution. “There they created a unique institution, 70 years ago, not to absorb the refugees but to perpetuate them. Therefore, the U.S. has done a very important thing by halting the financing for the refugee perpetuation agency known as UNRWA. It is finally beginning to resolve the problem. The funds must be taken and used to genuinely help rehabilitate the refugees, the true number of which is much smaller than the number reported by UNRWA. This is a welcome and important change and we support it,” Netanyahu said.