Trump administration to cut $300 million from UN Palestinian refugee agency

Hannah Rogers
September 1, 2018

The United States on Friday halted all funding to a UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees in a move likely to further heighten tensions between the Palestinians and the Trump administration.

The State Department announced Friday that the USA "will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation".

Since 2009, the annual contribution from the United States has ranged between $US233 million ($324 million) and almost $US400 million - about a quarter of the agency's budget.

The United States paid out $75 million (US$60 million) to UNRWA in January but withheld another $82 million ($US65 million) pending a review.

But worldwide efforts appear to have done little to assuage the Trump administration's concerns over the United Nations agency's fundamental business model, which it called "simply unsustainable" and described as being in "crisis mode for many years".

And while there was some relief for the agency on Thursday when Germany said it would provide additional funding, UNRWA's director Pierre Krahenbuhl said earlier this week that the agency needs $200 million to continue its work until the end of this year.

UNRWA was established after Israel's 1948 War of Independence to singularly aid some 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes.

The Times of Israel reported that "Jordan said Thursday it would host a fundraiser at the United Nations headquarters in NY next month to keep UNRWA afloat".

In recent days, senior Trump administration officials publicly expressed dissatisfaction with UNRWA but stopped short of saying the U.S. would defund the agency.

CNN reported critics charged the move limits the options for the 5.3 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA.

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On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, the USA ambassador to the United Nations, complained that "Palestinians continue to bash America" although it's the main donor for UNRWA.

"We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and global donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business", she added.

UNRWA responded by stating that its "programs have a proven track record in creating one of the most successful human development processes ... in the Middle East".

In Gaza, the Islamist group Hamas also condemned the United States move as a "grave escalation against the Palestinian people".

Berlin is "preparing the allocation of further means of a substantial volume", German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote Thursday to his European Union counterparts, who have been holding informal talks in Vienna.

"Such a punishment will not succeed to change the fact that the United States no longer has a role in the region and that it is not a part of the solution", Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization said a statement that the cut was "a cruel and irresponsible move targeting the most vulnerable segment of Palestinian society".

"An immediate and capricious cut off of UNRWA funding ... risks collapsing the Palestinian Authority, empowering Hamas, and shifting the responsibility of health, education, and ultimately security services to the Israelis", Harden said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly backs the United States decision, with his office quoted as saying: "Israel supports the move because UNWRA is one of the main problems perpetuating the conflict".

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