The United States has announced it will withhold about half the initial aid it planned to give a United Nations agency that serves the Palestinians, just two weeks after President Donald Trump questioned the value of such funding.
Announcing it will provide US$60 million to the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) while withholding a further $65 million for now, the US State Department said Tuesday the aid group needed to make unspecified reforms.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 16, 2018
Palestine Liberation Organization official Wasel Abu Youssef immediately criticized the move, casting it as a deliberate effort to deny the Palestinians their rights and linking it to Trump’s widely criticized December 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was unaware of any cut in aid, but was “very concerned” about the possibility because it “is an important factor of stability.”
The US, the main donor for UNRWA, is cutting over half of its funding to the #refugee agency, endangering millions of Palestinian refugees worldwide who may lose access to educational, health, and emergency food services. https://t.co/Y9zLpRFktZ
— Friends of Sabeel NA (@fosnalive) January 17, 2018
UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said in a statement that the reduced US contribution “threatens one of the most successful and innovative human-development endeavors in the Middle East.”
The decision is likely to compound the difficulty of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to further undermine Arabs’ faith that the United States can act as an impartial arbitrator.
The last talks collapsed in 2014, partly because of Israel’s opposition to an attempted unity pact between the Fatah and Hamas Palestinian factions and to Israeli settlement-building on occupied land that Palestinians seek for a state.
— Palestine PLO-NAD (@nadplo) January 16, 2018
“UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate,” said Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Even if Washington provided the additional $65 million, the $125 million total would be well below the $355 million that a US official said it gave UNRWA in the 2017 fiscal year which ended September 30.
Insisting the decision would sustain schools and health services, State Department spokesman Heather Nauert echoed Trump in calling on other nations to provide more money because the United States “pays more than its share.”
UNRWA is literally the only thing between tens of thousands of the most vulnerable Palestinians and death. Whether that’s from starvation, ongoing illness or critical medical care. Provisions against which are all pretty much funded or heavily subsidised by UNRWA. pic.twitter.com/qYNUJHf9FR
— Julia Macfarlane (@juliamacfarlane) January 16, 2018
The State Department wrote a letter notifying UNRWA of the decision, Nauert said, noting that while UNRWA reforms were a condition of releasing more money, the aid decision was “not aimed at punishing” anyone.
In a Twitter post on January 2, Trump said Washington gives Palestinians “HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) January 17, 2018
Although US officials did not link the decision to Trump’s tweet, they made a point often advanced by him, saying the United States had been UNRWA’s single largest donor for decades.
Trump’s aides initially debated whether to cut off all UNRWA aid, an unidentified US official said, but those opposed argued such a move could further destabilize the region.
(teleSUR, PC, Social Media)