The White House this week announced it would halt millions of dollars in funding for a UN agency that helps educate, feed, and provide healthcare for Palestinian refugees throughout the Arab world.
The move, which eliminates $300 million in annual funds to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), follows an earlier decision to cut $200 million in bilateral aid for Gaza and the West Bank.
The funding cuts are part of a wider US strategy to force talks with Palestinian leaders, who are refusing to engage in negotiations following the Trump Administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
US lawmakers and Israeli officials are also concerned about the UNRWA’s participation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has criticized UNRWA officials for violating their neutrality commitments, demonizing Israel, and turning a blind eye to the activity of terror groups.
“We already have great-great-grandchildren of refugees who are not refugees,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I suggest a gradual conversion of all funds going to UNRWA to other agencies.”
The UNRWA was founded in 1949 to serve the 700,000+ Palestinians who were forced out of their homes in the war to create Israel. Today, there are more than five million people registered as “refugees” with the organization.
The UNRWA operates more than 700 schools and over 140 healthcare facilities for refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. Critics fear a reduction in funds could leave thousands of students out of school.
“The political instrumentalization of humanitarian assistance in the context of the Middle East may well have widespread dramatic and unpredictable consequences,” argues UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.
The Trump Administration has also threatened to cut back on the number of Palestinians registered as refugees with the UNRWA, which it described as “irredeemably flawed.”
But international officials warn that restricting the number of Palestinians who qualify for refugee status could leave millions of people without a state.
“The effort, coupled with a cut in humanitarian aid, is likely to increase economic and political pressure on neighboring countries in the Middle East already struggling to absorb a more recent influx of millions of refugees from Iraq and Syria,” notes The Wall Street Journal.
Withholding funds could also make it ever harder to broker a peace deal between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the latter of which insist refugees have the right to return to Israel.
“[This decision] does not serve peace but rather strengthens terrorism in the region,” argues Palestinian official Mahmoud Abbas, adding that the decision to withhold funds is a “flagrant assault against the Palestinian people and a defiance of UN resolutions.”
The US is by far the UNRWA’s largest donor, providing $368 million in 2017 to an overall budget of $1.24 billion. Washington suggested the UNRWA could get its funding back if it made reforms, but did not provide details. It also encouraged the Palestinians to engage in peace talks with Israel.
Editor’s note: If they have enough money to support terrorism, they don’t need humanitarian assistance. This may seem like a cruel step, but their lives will never be normalized until a true peace is negotiated.