TEL AVIV – Officials from the UN agency for Palestinian “refugees” will meet in Rome with world powers on Thursday in an urgent attempt to alleviate the crisis it faces after the U.S. withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in funding earlier this year.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) only has enough cash to keep its schools and medical services open until May, its commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl said.
“Last year, the US provided $364m. This year it has announced only $60m,” Krahenbuhl told the Guardian.
He added that “this is the biggest and most severe” crisis in the agency’s history.
Trump’s move came after the Palestinians said they could no longer consider the U.S. an impartial broker to negotiations with Israel after the president formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
UNWRA launched a major funding campaign after the U.S. cuts, but it was largely unsuccessful and diplomats are not optimistic about getting much more, AFP said.
They are hoping that European nations and Gulf Arab countries will pick up the tab.
The “Dignity is Priceless” campaign aims to raise $800 million, but so far only $900,000 was donated by Kuwait, though European countries have pledged donations for later in the year. Private donations ran only into the “hundreds of thousands,” Krahenbuhl said.
Nicola Jones, an international aid expert, said UNRWA leaders are likely “really concerned” by the drizzle of new funds. “They really did try to have a high profile public awareness campaign about the cost of withdrawing funding and I think it is clearly extremely disappointing that it hasn’t been fruitful.”
More than than 20,000 people – mostly Palestinians – are employed by the agency across the region.
The U.S. has been the single largest donor to the Palestinians and to UNRWA in history.
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. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that the funds for Palestinian “refugees” be rerouted through another UN body such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which deals with the rest of the world’s refugees.
The definition of a Palestinian “refugee” and the actual numbers have long been the subject of debate.
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.
Trump slammed the PA in January, 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.”
The Rome conference will be co-hosted by Sweden, Egypt and Jordan and will be attended by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
“When any agency depends on a single donor it is a vulnerability,” said Sweden’s ambassador to the United Nations Olof Skoog. “Sharing the responsibility more equally is therefore reasonable, but we expect the United States to stay committed.”
Hugh Lovatt, Israel/Palestine analyst at the European Council of Foreign Relations think tank, said he expected Europeans in Rome to make a “concerted effort to corner the Americans and convince them to reconsider (their aid cuts).”