TEL AVIV – U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Tuesday questioned the official number of Palestinians designated as refugees by the international body, and said that the agency for those labeled refugees must undergo an overhaul if the U.S. is to continue to support it.
Haley agreed with an interviewer at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank, who suggested that the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) exaggerates the number of refugees.
Palestinian so-called refugees are the only “refugees” in the world that pass that status on to their descendants in perpetuity. One of the core issues in the conflict is the Palestinian demand for the “right of return” that would see those refugees and their descendants — who now number around 5 million — return to Israel in any final status agreement. Israel has categorically rejected this demand, deeming it a bid to destroy the Jewish state by demographics.
“We will be a donor if it (UNRWA) reforms what it does … if they actually change the number of refugees to an accurate account, we will look back at partnering them,” Haley said.
Her remarks come amid reports that President Donald Trumps has decided to end all funding to UNRWA.
Haley was asked by the FDD interviewer whether the “right of return” should be “off the table.”
Haley replied: “I do agree with that, and I think we have to look at this in terms of what’s happening (with refugees) in Syria, what’s happening in Venezuela.”
“So I absolutely think we have to look at the right of return,” she said.
She also called out Arab countries, especially oil-rich states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, for not giving more money to UNRWA.
In January, the U.S. cut its aid to UNRWA to $60 million from $350 million. However, on Tuesday Foreign Policy reported that at a meeting earlier this month between Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the decision was made to cut all funding to the UN agency.
On Friday, the U.S. announced that it was cutting more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians.
Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the head of UNRWA, implied that the U.S. aid cuts were intended to punish the Palestinians for their reaction to the U.S.’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“One cannot simply wish 5 million people away,” Kraehenbuehl said.
PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi said the Trump administration “has already demonstrated meanness of spirit in its collusion with the Israeli occupation and its theft of land and resources; now it is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of this occupation.”
The PLO’s envoy to Washington responded to the latest cut by saying that the Trump administration was “weaponizing” humanitarian aid.
“This administration is dismantling decades of U.S. vision and engagement in Palestine,” Husam Zomlot said in a statement.
In the interview with FDD, Haley slammed the UN’s bias against Israel as “pathetic.”