TEL AVIV – The U.S. has “thrown more than $10 billion” in aid to the Palestinians, but despite that we are no closer to peace, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Tuesday, adding that the Palestinian Authority has used large sums of that money for terrorist payments.
Friedman’s scathing remarks were in response to backlash over his country’s decision to stop all funding to the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA.
“Since 1994, the United States has thrown more than $10 billion in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians,” Friedman said in a Rosh Hashanah toast. “Without minimizing the importance of medical treatment and quality education for children — and we don’t minimize that, not even for a minute — we found that these expenditures were bringing the region no closer to peace or stability, not even by a millimeter.”
He accused UNRWA of perpetuating the refugee problem instead of solving it.
“To spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund stipends to terrorists and their families, to expend funds to perpetuate rather than to mitigate refugee status, and to finance hate-filled textbooks — I ask you, how does that provide value to the United States or the region?”
The American envoy pledged that the U.S. would find other ways to support the Palestinians.
“Make no mistake, the USA is a generous nation and we would love, truly love, to invest in this region for the return on investment of peace and stability in Israel and a better quality of life for the Palestinians,” he said. “Indeed, we continue to provide funding, 40 percent of the funding for the UN High Commission on Refugees. UNHCR, in contrast to UNRWA, seeks to end statelessness, not deploy it as a political weapon.”
“Let us dedicate ourselves to building upon our great accomplishments, to making the US-Israel relationship even stronger and to bringing peace, prosperity and security to the region.”
Last Friday, the State Department said that the United States “will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation,” in reference to UNRWA.
Until now the U.S. has been the biggest single donor to UNRWA, covering 30% of its annual budget.
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.
“The fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years — tied to UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries — is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years,” the State Department said.
On Tuesday, the White House also announced that it planned to slash more than $200 million in overall aid to Ramallah.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley questioned the UN’s count of refugees and also said the “right of return” demand should be taken “off the table.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday hailed the U.S.’s decision to cut off any further financial aid as a “welcome and important change.”
“It is finally starting to solve the problem. The funds must be taken and used to genuinely help rehabilitate the refugees, whose true number is a fraction of the number reported by UNRWA.”