UNRWA ignores Washington’s call for reform, asks Arab nations to make-up for deficit

The Arab League held an emergency meeting of Arab Foreign Minister, during which they condemned the United States for its decision to withhold funds from UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned during the meeting that a cut in Washington’s funding for the U.N. agency will directly impact the stability of the Middle East, putting the already fragile security of the chaotic region at risk. He said, “It is no secret that this trend poses a threat to the refugee issue, which is one of the main issues for a final resolution, as well as the negative consequences that will not only affect the receiving countries of refugees, but also the stability and security of the region,” the Arab League Secretary General warned.


The United States, which is by far the largest contributor of UNRWA, emphasized that it would withhold 65 million dollars until the frequently criticized U.N. agency would implement much needed reform, including establishing a transparent mechanism that would allow donor-states to clearly identify the purpose of their funding. Commissioner-General of UNRWA, however, ignored the demands for reform – urging instead Arab nations to help make up for the shortfall, describing Washington’s move as “the most severe crisis” in the agency’s history. He said, “What is at stake, excellencies, is the dignity of Palestine refugees and regional stability. If 525,000 students no longer have access to education, if three million patients cannot access healthcare in UNRWA clinics, if 1.5 million people can no longer receive emergency assistance, we will undoubtedly witness and see a catastrophic rise in insecurity,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl told the attendees of the Arab League’s meeting.


The decision by Washington has also added to Palestinian anger at the United States, following President Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Here too, the Arab world chose to ignore the fact that Washington asserted in its decision on Jerusalem that any final status would only be implemented following direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. That is why, the Palestinian leadership has decided to revoke the Americans as a key-mediator of a peace process, announcing during a press conference that discussions are underway with the European Union and other states to establish an international multilateral committee that will advance long-stalled negotiations. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said, “We are discussing the possibility of establishing an international multilateral committee, as the previous mechanism no longer exists, and this is what (EU foreign policy chief) Federica Mogherini confirmed yesterday as well as several other states. So, as a principle, we agree on the formation of an international, multilateral mechanism, the way in which it will be formed will still require more work,” the Palestinian top diplomat said at a press conference on the sidelines of the Arab League’s meeting in Cairo.


Israel has on several occasions rejected the Palestinian demands for an alternative broker, declaring Washington as the only one that can bring about a viable solution with genuine assurances to the decades old conflict.