TEL AVIV – The Trump administration is preparing to cut tens of millions of dollars – over half the intended first installment – from the UN agency for so-called Palestinian refugees, the Associated Press, citing U.S. officials, reported on Sunday.
According to officials, only $60 million of the planned $125 million would be paid to the UN Relief and Works Agency, the body that administers to Palestinian “refugees.” Other payments would be contingent on major changes in the organization, the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added.
The U.S. is UNRWA’s single largest donor, providing about $300 million annually.
The definition of a Palestinian “refugee” and the actual numbers have long been the subject of debate.
Last month, Trump said that Palestinian intransigence regarding negotiations with Israel would cost them aid.
Trump tweeted, “we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel” and added, “with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
…peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
In a two hour address to the Palestinian Liberation Organization on Sunday, Abbas cursed Trump over the tweet, saying, “May your house be demolished.”
However, there has been a difference of opinion among U.S. officials regarding the U.S. decision.
While U.S. Ambassador to the Haley wants U.S. aid to be entirely cut until the Palestinians return to the negotiating table with Israel, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, among others, believe that doing so would only worsen the situation in the region, especially in neighboring Jordan which is home to hundreds of thousands of so-called Palestinian refugees.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tended towards Tillerson and Mattis’ line of thinking although it was the West Bank and Gaza – and not Jordan – that were his main concern. While supporting Trump’s bottom line, the prime minister felt the U.S. move would create a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip as well as derail security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Instead, he believes the move should be gradual.
Netanyahu’s office said he “supports President Trump’s critical attitude towards UNRWA and believes practical steps need to be taken in order to change the fact that UNRWA is being used to entrench the Palestinian refugee problem instead of solving it.”
Netanyahu also suggested instead that the funds for Palestinian refugees instead be rerouted to another UN body such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which deals the rest of the world’s refugees, the report said.
Israel is deeply critical of UNRWA, charging that the organization harbors terrorists and perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem indefinitely, thus blocking a potential resolution to the conflict.
UNRWA has also come under fire on many occasions both for spreading anti-Semitic hate in its schools and for employing members of terror organizations and supporters of terror. In February, UN Watch released an 130-page report exposing 40 UNRWA school employees in Gaza and elsewhere who engaged in incitement to terror against Israelis and expressed “anti-Semitism, including by posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.”
That month the agency also announced the suspension of an UNRWA employee suspected of having been elected a Hamas leader.
The UN itself released a report in 2015 that found Palestinian terror groups used three empty UN-run schools in Gaza as a weapons cache. Moreover, it said that in at least two cases terrorists “probably” fired rockets at Israel from the schools during the 50-day summer conflict in 2014 between Israel and Hamas.
While the agency is said to administer to 5.1 millions so-called refugees, the numbers are unclear with conflicting statistics regarding the Palestinian diaspora. For example, Breitbart Jerusalem reported last week that the agency was unable to confirm whether its statistic of 500,000 was a true reflection of the number of Palestinian “refugees” in Lebanon when that country’s own bureau of statistics cites 175,000 – nearly two thirds less than UNRWA’s number.
According to UNRWA’s own data, the U.S. is its largest donor and in 2016 it granted $152 million directly to the agency and a further $216 million to affiliated projects – equal to a quarter of the agency’s total budget.