Palestinian officials expressed fury after the US announced it was cutting all funding to UNRWA, which perpetuates the Palestinian refugee issue.
Palestinian officials on Saturday condemned the US decision to stop all funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for so-called Palestinian refugees, claiming the move is contrary to international law.
The State Department announced Friday that the US, the largest contributor to UNRWA with $350 million in annual aid, will make no additional contributions to the agency.
“We totally reject and condemn this American decision,” Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), stated, according to the Palestinian official WAFA news agency.
“The United States does not have the right to support and condone the theft of Palestinian land, the illegal Israeli colonization of Palestinian land and the theft of Jerusalem and its annexation to Israel, and does not have the right to act according to the whims of Sheldon Adelson and Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said, in reference to the Israeli premier and the Jewish American mogul, a known supporter of Israel.
“The decisions of the US administration toward Jerusalem, refugees and settlements are recipes for the obliteration of international law as well as security and stability in the region, and represent gifts to the forces of extremism and terrorism in the region,” said Erekat, who urged the world to reject this decision and provide all possible support to UNRWA.
“UNRWA is not an institution of the Palestinian National Authority. It was created by a resolution of the United Nations and therefore the entire international community must reject and condemn the American decision and provide all necessary assistance to UNRWA to enable it to continue to shoulder its responsibility towards the Palestinian refugees,” he said.
The UNRWA’s ‘Irredeemably Flawed Operation’
Explaining the dramatic move, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Friday that “when we made a US contribution of $60 million in January, we made it clear that the United States was no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs that we had assumed for many years.”
“The fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years – tied to UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries – is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years. The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation,” added Nauert.
Among the reasons Nauert cited in the statement for the US decision were “the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business” and UNRWA’s “endlessly crisis-driven service provision model.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki also condemned the US decision on UNRWA, declaring that the US will “never succeed in dismantling the UN agency or marginalize the Palestinian refugees issue as US President Donald Trump and his administration contemplate.”
“On the contrary, this decision will lead to strong reactions from many countries that will not accept the American policy of bullying towards the Palestinian refugees file and UNRWA,” Malki said in a statement. “We will act to protect UNRWA from attacks by Trump and his administration.”
He called upon his Arab counterparts “to do what they can to protect UNRWA from American bullying and to send a strong message to President Trump that the Arab states will continue to stand with the Palestinian cause in all its components, including the refugees file, and to cover any deficit that will arise from this policy that is consistent with the instructions of the occupying state that seeks to liquidate the Palestinian issue and eliminate the two-state solution, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Palestinian ‘Refugees’: Unique Status and Legacy
The Palestinians have a unique definition for their status as “refugees” that has permitted them to inflate their number significantly. Specifically, refugee status for Palestinians is passed on to succeeding generations and is unaffected by citizenship from other countries, in contrast to the definition of refugee status for every other refugee population in the world.
Therefore, the vast majority of “refugees” in Jordan, more than two million, are citizens of the country who identify as Palestinian.
Israel has argued for years that the UN and the Palestinians are perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem and oppose any attempt to seek a solution.
Furthermore, the Palestinians’ status as refugees ensures an endless flow of international aid along with other financial ramifications.
A so-called Palestinian refugee receives quadruple the amount of aid that a Syrian, Iraqi or African refugee receives from the UN.
A study released in September shows that in 2016, UNRWA, which provides assistance solely to Palestinians, spent an average of $246 for each of the 5.3 million Palestinians it defines as refugees, while the UNHCR spent only a quarter of that amount – $58 per refugee – on non-Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly called to shut down UNRWA, which is responsible for funneling aid to so-called Palestinian refugees, saying that it is perpetuating the Palestinian problem.
“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem. It also perpetuates the narrative of the right-of-return, as it were, in order to eliminate the state of Israel; therefore, UNRWA needs to pass from the world,” Netanyahu stated in January.
“This is an agency that was established 70 years ago, only for Palestinian refugees, at a time when the UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) deals with global refugee problems. Of course this creates a situation in which there are great-grandchildren of refugees, who are not refugees but who are cared for by UNRWA, and another 70 years will pass and those great-grandchildren will have great-grandchildren and therefore, this absurdity needs to stop,” the Israeli premier added.
Netanyahu offered a “proposal: UNRWA support funds need to be gradually shifted to the UNHCR, with clear criteria for supporting genuine refugees, not fictitious refugees as happens today under UNRWA.”