Israel praised and welcomed the United States’ decision to cut off funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).
“UNRWA perpetuates the myth of the eternal ‘refugee’ status of the Palestinians,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The sole purpose is sustaining an illegitimate instrument aimed at the destruction of the State of Israel. UNRWA is part of the problem, not of the solution.”
The U.S. State Department announced on Friday that America will no longer be making contributions to UNRWA, an “irredeemably flawed operation.” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that UNRWA is providing aid to an “expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.”
The U.S. had been the largest contributor to UNRWA donating around $350 million annually – nearly 30 percent of UNRWA’s total budget. The relief agency provides healthcare, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Without U.S. support, these countries – which collectively house 60 percent of UNWRA refugees – will be under pressure to integrate the refugees, providing them with possibly citizenship and jobs.
This news dovetails with a report last week that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the Palestinian claims to a “right of return” should be off the negotiating table. The right of return is a key issue in a final peace agreement, along with the status of Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital city.
Nevertheless, the decision to cut aid to UNRWA is another example of the general pro-Israel tone set by President Donald Trump’s administration including recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the U.S. decision on UNRWA is a “very welcome and important change.” Netanyahu noted that Israel absorbed and included thousands of refugees — Jewish Holocaust survivors and Jews who fled Arab countries — when they sought refuge here.
“We didn’t keep them as refugees. We made them equal and contributing citizens in our state,” he said. “That isn’t what’s happening with the Palestinians, where 70 years ago they created a special institution: not absorbing refugees, and instead perpetuating refugees.”
UNWRA had been accused of implementing an educational curriculum that teaches children to hate Israel and radicalizing young people.
Needless to say, the United Nations and Palestinian Authority officials were disappointed with the U.S. decision.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, called the move a “flagrant assault against the Palestinian people and a defiance of UN resolutions.”
António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations Guterres, called on other nations to fill in the financial gap, according to his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
“We regret the United States’ decision to provide no further funding to UNRWA, which provides essential services to Palestine refugees and contributes to stability in the region,” Dujarric said. “UNRWA has a strong record of providing high-quality education, health and other essential services, often in extremely difficult circumstances, to Palestine refugees who are in great need. The Secretary-General calls on other countries to help fill the remaining financial gap, so that UNRWA can continue to provide this vital assistance, as well as a sense of hope this vulnerable population.”
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness expressed the Agency’s “deep regret and disappointment.”
“We reject in the strongest possible terms the criticism that UNRWA’s schools, health centers, and emergency assistance programs are ‘irredeemably flawed’. These very programs have a proven track record in creating one of the most successful human development processes and results in the Middle East,” he said in a tweet.