After US cuts UNRWA funding in half as a nudge toward implementing needed reforms, Palestinians accuse Trump of trying to “liquidate the rights of Palestinian refugees.”
The US State Department announced Tuesday that it is withholding $65 million of funding it had budgeted this month for the international Palestinian aid organization, UNRWA. This is some 18% of the total contribution America gives annually to the group as its largest donor.
According to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, two major issues led to the withholding of funds. “We don’t believe that taking care of other nations and other people have to be solely the United States’ responsibility,” she said, alluding to the oft-stated complaint of President Trump that the US pays vastly more than its share to international organizations.
Additionally, Nauert said, “We would like to see some reforms be made,” while not specifying exactly what this would mean. In the letter informing UNRWA of its decision, the administration called for a “fundamental reexamination of the agency.”
UN officials reacted with predictable dismay to the funding cut, with UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, saying in a statement, “At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees,” and calling for other nations to step forward to fill the gap in funding.
The Palestinians, however, reacted with pure fury. PLO Executive Committee member Mustafa Barghouti accused Trump of trying to “liquidate the rights of Palestinian refugees.” Another Committee member, Hana Ashrawi, stated that the US decision “demonstrate[s] that it has no compunction in targeting the innocent.”
No Negotiations, No Money
Palestinian leadership remained silent on the issue raised by President Trump regarding decades of US aid and the absence of any significant negotiations by the Palestinians with Israel. Nor was any consideration given to the possibility that UNRWA policies should be reformed. The Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission to the US went so far as to declare that funding UNRWA is “not a bargaining chip but a US and international obligation,” calling the cut “indefensible.”
Israeli officials, however, expressed gratitude to the American administration for confirming what they have been telling the world for years. Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren (Kulanu) said, “I congratulate US President Donald Trump on his decision to drastically cut funding to UNRWA. This is a false and corrupt organization, which fabricates millions of refugees in order to receive world funding…The President’s decision is a crucial and vital step to putting an end to one of the greatest frauds in history.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminded the press – as did Israeli UN representative Danny Danon – that UNRWA had been created for the purpose of helping “Palestinian refugees,” and not their descendants’ descendants.
“This is the first time they are being challenged,” he said. “This organization perpetuates the Palestinians’ refugee status. This is the first time someone is standing up and challenging that.”
The Americans did not leave UNRWA high and dry, however, as the US transfered $60 million to the UN body to help pay for its immediate needs.