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The Trump administration announced that it is cutting off all funding to the United Nations agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees, hoping that the move will force the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) to reenter negotiations.
The plan was announced in recent weeks to key regional governments, but some analysts fear that the cut could spur more tensions in Gaza, the West Bank and other volatile areas of the Middle East.
Funding America’s enemies?
Despite receiving constant threats from the jihadist-run P.A. – co-led by the Islamic terrorist group Hamas – the United States has been sending the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars in aid annually … a commitment that was never up for debate during the two terms of former President Barack Obama.
“The United States had been providing the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA) in the Near East, or UNRWA, some $350 million a year – more than any other country,” Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch informed. “The sum amounted to more than a quarter of the agency’s $1.2 billion annual budget.”
A number of reasons were given for the timing and reasoning behind the policy change.
“[T]he administration [reportedly] disapproves of the way the UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNWRA, uses its funds and wants to reduce the number of Palestinians who claim refugee status,” CBN News noted. “The administration also wants European and Arab countries to contribute more to UNWRA's funding. The U.S. is currently UNRWA's single largest donor, but President Trump reportedly wants that to change.”
It was also reported by the Washington Post that anonymous sources revealed that the U.N. must change the way UNWRA operates if it wants the U.S. to continue any kind of funding in the future.
Trump has already made his opposition to the U.N.’s pro-Palestinian agenda clear through previous funding cuts to its Middle Eastern agency, but the so-called international peacekeeper organization apparently did not take heed – and is now losing its top source of income.
“Earlier this year, the administration cut UNRWA's scheduled payment of $130 million to just $65 million,” CBN News’ Emily Jones recounted. “This latest report follows last week's announcement by the U.S. State Department that it will cut more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinian Authority, [and] Israel's Channel 2 news also reported that the administration will remove the Palestinian refugees' ‘right of return’ from the negotiating table.”
Support and opposition to the cut
Even though key players in the Trump administration are fully behind the latest cut to the U.N. agency, not everyone in the District of Columbia agrees with the move.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that America has had enough of the Palestinians’ abuse – and abuse of the system.
"First of all, you're looking at the fact that, yes, there's an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance, but more importantly, the Palestinians continue to bash America," Haley proclaimed Tuesday, according to CBN News. "[The Palestinians] have their hand out wanting UNRWA money."
Before long, the Trump administration’s decision for the massive cut was not uncontested in Washington, D.C.
“The decision underscored the influence of Kushner and Nikki Haley – the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. – who have overcome resistance to the cuts from the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence community and the State Department under the leadership of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson,” Lynch explained. “Opponents of the steep cuts fear the U.S. retreat would stoke instability in the region.”
On the other side of the argument, it is contended that the cuts will put an end to the Palestinians’ false hopes and bring them back to the bargaining table.
“Kushner contends that UNRWA’s assistance has built a culture of dependency among the Palestinians and that it helps preserve unrealistic expectations that they might one day return to the homes they left in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War,” Lynch added. “He and Haley are gambling that the financial pressure will force the Palestinians to resume negotiations with Washington’s Middle East peace team, which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas halted over Trump’s decision last year to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. They also believe it will compel other countries – particularly wealthy Arab sheikdoms in the Persian Gulf – to increase their financial support for UNRWA.”
Argument for throwing good money after bad
In an official brief on the meeting between Kushner and Pompeo, former U.S. Agency for International Development Dave Harden contended that the total cutoff of UNRWA funds from the U.S. could benefit Islamic terrorists in the Middle East – including Palestinian-based Hamas.
“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 told Foreign Policy. “The decision is dangerous – with unpredictable consequences.”
Mercy Corps Missions Director for Palestine Andy Dwonch – whose organization is one of the charities losing funding from the cut – also condemned the slash of funds.
“The U.S. Administration’s decision will deepen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” Dwonch insisted in a statement issued by Mercy Corps. “The unconscionable decision to suspend assistance contradicts U.S. values and undermines U.S. goals of a peaceful, secure and prosperous region.”
The Israeli daily, Haaretz, reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu championed the Trump administration’s plan to cut Palestinian funding, but also noted that a number of Israel’s military officials warned Israeli Cabinet members last weekend that a weakened UNRWA in Gaza would ultimately lead to Hamas filling the agency’s role.
Another concern was brought up by a former member of Israel’s armed forces.
“Peter Lerner – a retired Israeli lieutenant colonel who served for years as a spokesman for the Israeli military – said he was particularly worried by a report that the White House is considering curtailing UNRWA’s operations in the West Bank, where Israeli and Palestinian security forces have worked together to prevent attacks on Israelis,” Lynch explained.
Lerner claimed that the humanitarian aid provided by the funding would worsen conditions, but he did not mention the detrimental effects of continued U.S. aid to the pro-Palestinian U.N. agency.
“[UNRWA] keeps people off the street, employed, and provides social services,” he insisted.
While some contend that Israel’s neighbor, Jordan, would experience detrimental effects as a result of the funding cut, Kushner offered a solution.
“The development also marks a blow to Jordan – a key U.S. ally that hosts nearly 2.9 million refugees, including 600,000 Syrians displaced by war in their country,” Lynch noted. “Kushner had proposed redirecting UNRWA funds to the Jordanian government to help defray the cost of caring for its Palestinians if Amman would agree to fully naturalize them and accept the fact that they would not be granted a right of return to Israel. Jordan rebuffed the proposal.”
However, the all-out cut of UNRWA funds from the U.S. is not yet a done deal, as a final confirmation of the plans has still not been issued by the Trump administration.
"U.S. policy regarding UNRWA has been under frequent evaluation and internal discussion," a U.S. State Department spokesman told Foreign Policy.
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