TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on expressed support for the Trump administration’s threats to cut funding to the UN’s Palestinian “refugee” agency, declaring the agency “must pass away.”
Referring to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which ministers to so-called Palestinian refugees, Netanyahu stated at a cabinet meeting on Sunday that “I fully agree with President Trump’s strong criticism of UNRWA.”
“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the problem of the Palestinian refugees,” he added. “It also perpetuates the narrative of the so-called right of return with the aim of eliminating the State of Israel, and therefore UNRWA must pass away.”
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.
Israel suggested that the funds for Palestinian “refugees” be rerouted through another UN body such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which deals the rest of the world’s refugees, according to a report broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2.
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 for spreading anti-Semitic hate in its schools and 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.
“UNRWA perpetuates the refugee [status] in Gaza,” Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz told Channel 10 news on Saturday night.
While the agency is said to minister to 5.1 million 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.
While Netanyahu supports the aid cut, he believes the move should be gradual.
His 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.”
Trump slammed the PA last week, saying his administration should not continue to give “massive payments” to the Palestinians when they are “no longer willing to talk peace.”
“We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump tweeted. “They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue 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.”
An Israeli report over the weekend that said the U.S. failed to give UNRWA a payment of $125 million was disputed by a White House official.
“There is no existing schedule that obligates the United States to provide specific amounts of aid to UNWRA on specific dates,” the official said. “The decisions of when to provide aid in the fiscal year, and in what allocations, lie with the Secretary of State.”
“At this time, no such decisions have been made,” the official added.