Spurred by Trump, US Withholds $65m in Palestinian Aid

US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley with Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon. (Photo: Mintpress)

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.

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.”

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.

“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.”

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?”

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)

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