Abbas, Jordan king agree on need to support Palestinian refugee agency
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Abbas, Jordan king agree on need to support Palestinian refugee agency

Two leaders meet in Amman following reports that the US, looking to close UNRWA, wants Hashemite Kingdom to revoke refugee status of 2 million Palestinians

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) embraces King Abdullah II of Jordan as he arrives to meet with him at the Royal Palace in the capital Amman on August 8, 2018. (AFP/Pool/Khalil Mazraawi)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) embraces King Abdullah II of Jordan as he arrives to meet with him at the Royal Palace in the capital Amman on August 8, 2018. (AFP/Pool/Khalil Mazraawi)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II discussed “the necessity” of international backing for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the UN body that supports Palestinian refugees, during a meeting in Amman on Wednesday, the official Jordanian Petra news agency reported.

Last week, Foreign Policy reported that Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, had pushed Jordan to revoke the refugee status of some 2 million Palestinian in its territory so that UNRWA would cease its operations there, and that Kushner was looking to close UNRWA.

“The meeting [between Abbas and Abdullah] dealt with the necessity of the international community supporting UNRWA to enable it to continue to provide education, health and humanitarian services to refugees,” the Petra report said.

Under Trump, the US has frozen hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to UNRWA, with the US president linking the decision to the Palestinians’ refusal to speak with his administration after he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on August 24, 2017. (courtesy, WAFA)

According to emails published Friday by Foreign Policy magazine, Kushner has been highly critical of UNRWA, with he and other White House officials weighing its closure as part of their peace efforts.

“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner wrote in an email dated January 11, just days before the US froze $65 million in funding for UNRWA. “This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”

“Our goal can’t be to keep things stable and as they are… Sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there,” he added in the email, according to Foreign Policy.

The Foreign Policy report also quoted Palestinian officials saying Kushner and US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt in June asked Jordan to remove the refugee status of some 2 million Palestinians in order to end UNRWA’s operations in the country.

“[Kushner said] the resettlement has to take place in the host countries and these governments can do the job that UNRWA was doing,” said Palestinian Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi, according to Foreign Policy.

“They want to take a really irresponsible, dangerous decision and the whole region will suffer,” she added, claiming the White House wanted Gulf states to pick up the tab for whatever this would cost Jordan.

Palestinians collect food aid at a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Uniquely, UNRWA grants refugee status to all descendants of Palestinians who left or fled Israel with the establishment of the state in 1948, swelling the number to an estimated five million at present, when the number of actual refugees from that conflict is estimated to be in the low tens of thousands. In peace talks, the Palestinian leadership has always demanded a “right of return” to Israel for these millions — an influx that, if accepted by Israel, would spell the end of the Israel as a majority Jewish state.

Israel argues that the Palestinian demand represents an UNRWA-facilitated effort to destroy Israel by demographic means. The Palestinians also seek an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Months of ongoing violent protests fueled by Hamas at the Gaza border with Israel were initiated under the banner of a “March of the Return,” and encouraged by Hamas leaders with the declared ultimate goal of erasing the border and destroying Israel.

Israeli officials have indicated that an independent Palestinian state, if agreed upon in negotiations, would absorb Palestinian refugees and their descendants, just as Israel absorbed Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern and north African countries over the decades.

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