US decision to stop funding to Palestinian refugee agency is ‘an attack’ on its people, says president spokesperson

Official says move 'does not serve peace but rather strengthens terrorism in the region'

Conrad Duncan@theconradduncan
Saturday 01 September 2018 19:07
The United States was the largest contributor to agency, contributing 30 per cent of its budget
The United States was the largest contributor to agency, contributing 30 per cent of its budget

The US decision to withdraw funding for a United Nations (UN) agency that helps Palestinian refugees has been called “an attack on the rights of the Palestinian people” by a spokesperson for president Mahmoud Abbas.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the move “does not serve peace but rather strengthens terrorism in the region”. The Palestinian leadership is said to be considering an appeal to the UN Security Council over the decision.

The move is the latest controversial act by the Trump administration towards Israel-Palestine relations, after the US President recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year and moved the US Embassy there.

The US is traditionally the largest contributor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), contributing nearly 30 per cent of its total budget.

The State Department said the United States was “no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs” and denounced the agency as an “irredeemably flawed operation”.

“Palestinians, wherever they live, deserve better than an endlessly crisis-driven service provision model,” spokesperson Heather Nauert wrote in a statement on Friday.

The decision will cut nearly 300 million dollars (£231m) of planned support for the agency. UN workers have criticised the move for endangering the livelihood of Palestinian people.

Adnan Abu Hasna, a media advisor for UNRWA in Gaza, said, "Stopping or cutting aid to UNRWA could really affect UNRWA's operations. We don't think cutting this aid will help stability or pushing the peace process, especially as UNRWA plays a big role in the stability of the region."

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness added that the agency provides health clinics, schooling for 526,000 refugee children across Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, and food aid to 1.7 million people.

The agency will now seek more funding from existing donors and look for new sources of income

"Our funding gap is $217 million ... so although we have opened up our schools just this week, we have made it clear that we only have money until the end of September," Mr Gunness said.

UNRWA was established after Israel's 1948 War of Independence to aid some 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes and has since expanded to provide aid for an estimated five million refugees.

Israel has been critical of UNRWA’s work, with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing the agency of perpetuating conflict by promoting a Palestinian demand that refugees have the “right to return” to long-lost homes in what is now Israel.

Israeli opposition politician Yair Lapid responded to the decision on Twitter by saying, “UNRWA lost sight of its purpose long ago” and criticising the expansion of the agency since its creation.

An official in Mr Netanyahu’s office reportedly told The Times of Israel under condition of anonymity, “Israel supports the US move. Consolidating the refugee status of Palestinians is one of the problems that perpetuates the conflict.”

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Washington of implementing the agenda of “Israeli extremists who have done nothing but to destroy the prospect of peace between Palestinians and Israelis."

His words were echoed by Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem, who accused the United States of withdrawing funding from UNRWA to eliminate Palestinian’s right to return.

"It's clear that Trump has shifted from taking sides with the Israeli enemy to being a partner in the assault on our Palestinian peoples' rights," he said. "All these decisions will not stop our people's struggle to gain freedom and return."

Agencies contributed to this report

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