The United States informed the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, that it will grant the organization with a contribution of 60 million dollars for 2018, aimed to sustain schools and health services. That said, Washington decided to withhold 65 million dollars from the United States’ annual 125 million dollars pledge, “for future considerations.” In a press briefing at the U.S. State Department, Spokesperson Heather Nauert emphasized that contrary to speculations, the decision to withhold the 65 million dollars is not aimed to punish the Palestinians, but seeks to bring about much needed reform by UNRWA, which is subject of international criticism of the way it uses its funds, as well as an aspiration by the United States to share the burden of funding UNRWA, specifically by countries that criticize Washington for what they believe to be its position vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Nauert said, “One of the things that the United States would like to do is see some revisions made in how UNRWA operates. One of our bureaus, PRM, our – one of our bureaus here at the State Department has a formal oversight role with UNRWA. We have people on the ground who take a look at some of the UNRWA activities and things they do, how the money is being spent. And one of the things this administration would like to do, just as we talk about UN reform, is take a look at UNRWA, trying to make sure that the money is best spent and best spent so that people can get the services, whether it’s school or the health care services, that they need,” she said, while adding that “This (decision) is not aimed at punishing anyone. The United States Government and the Trump administration believe that there should be more so-called burden sharing to go around. The United States has been, in the past, the largest single donor to UNRWA. We would like other countries – in fact, other countries that criticize the United States for what they believe to be our position vis-a-vis the Palestinians, other countries that have criticized us – to step forward and actually help with UNRWA, to do more,” the US State Department Spokesperson said.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “very concerned” by Washington’s decision to withhold financial-aid to UNRWA, warning of dire consequences to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, which receive “vital humanitarian services” from the world body’s organization. Guterres said, “If UNRWA will not be in a position to provide the vital services and the emergency forms of support that UNRWA has been providing this will create a very, very serious problem and we will do everything we can to avoid this situation to occur,” the UN Secretary General said during a press briefing.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah condemned Washington’s decision to withhold the 65 million dollars in financial aid, accusing the Trump administration of deleting the rights of the Palestinians by adopting the Israeli narrative regarding the decades old conflict, including on the matter of Jerusalem and the Palestinian demands that refugees outside of Israel would be granted a so-called ‘right of return’. Member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Wasel Abu Yousef said, “This is the main issue: what is the American administration looking forward to? The so-called deal of the century which is set on deleting the rights of Palestinians. President Trump announced Jerusalem as the capital of the (Israeli) occupation, but he doesn’t have the right to do so, in a move against the International law and agreements, in an attempt to dismiss Jerusalem as an eternal capital of Palestine. Jerusalem will always be the capital of Palestine. The other issue is that he is trying to cut the aids for UNRWA and put more pressure to delete the refugees’ right of return,” the Palestinian official stressed.
Israel has yet to officially respond to Washington’s decision. That said, officials referred TV7 to a statement made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, in which he welcomed Trump’s criticism of UNRWA, an organization that according to the Israeli leader “perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem,” rather than aims to fulfill its mandate – a reality Netanyahu asserted ‘deems the agency obsolete.’
UNRWA responded to Washington’s decision by warning of significant impact to Palestinian refugees, while underlining the substantial setback the organization faces, as the United States has consistently been the its single largest donor for years and contributed more than $350 million of financial aid in 2017 alone.