Foreign Ministry and army believe cut would 'hurt not help'

Netanyahu urging Americans not to cut funding for UNRWA — TV report

PM wants to support Trump, thinks Palestinians should pay for boycotting peace effort, but said to fear a ‘disaster’ in Gaza

Palestinians receive their monthly food aid at a UN distribution center in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip in November 2012 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)
Palestinians receive their monthly food aid at a UN distribution center in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip in November 2012 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

Concerned that a threatened cut in US funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA could lead to a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is privately urging the Trump Administration not to implement the threat, a TV report claimed Thursday.

“Behind the scenes, the prime minister is now in contact with the Americans in order to prevent the massive cut [in US funding for UNRWA] — to prevent it, you heard right,” the Hadashot news report claimed.

There was no comment from Foreign Ministry on the report. Netanyahu serves as his own foreign minister.

Netanyahu’s public position is to support the Trump administration’s threats to cut funds to UNRWA, and Jerusalem agrees that “real steps” must be taken so that UNRWA — the United Nations body that provides humanitarian aid to the Palestinians — solves the Palestinian refugee issue rather than perpetuating it, the TV report said. “This comes up often in cabinet meetings.”

Furthermore, the prime minister backs US President Donald Trump’s tweeted conviction that the Palestinians should be made to pay for refusing to come to the negotiating table. And he does not want to undermine the US president, the report said.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu is anxious to avoid further destabilizing Gaza. He “wants to steer between the desire to publicly back Trump and to prevent a disaster in Gaza,” the TV report said.

The Foreign Ministry, the report added, flatly opposes the idea of cutting UNRWA’s funding. “Professional sources in the Foreign Ministry are ‘determinedly opposed’ to ending aid to UNRWA,” it said, quoting these sources as arguing that a cut would “make matters worse” and could lead to a “humanitarian catastrophe, especially in Gaza.”

IDF sources, the report further said, “also think it will hurt, not help.”

The Trump administration is currently evaluating its financial backing of UNRWA, a US official said Wednesday, while noting that the US views UNRWA’s work as vital to stability in the region.

Those comments came a day after US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley warned US support for UNRWA could end if the Palestinians refused to engage in peace negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and US President Donald Trump shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

The US was the biggest donor to UNRWA in 2016, giving $368,429,712. It is also the largest overall supplier of financial support for the Palestinians.

Conditions in the Gaza Strip, controlled by terror group Hamas, are already dire, with electric power only available for a few hours a day and inadequate drinking water and sewage infrastructure. A recent spate of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza aimed at southern Israeli communities near the Palestinian enclave has drawn Israeli responses in the form of air strikes on Hamas targets. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire that comes from its territory, even if it is carried out by other terror groups.

Tensions between the US and Palestinians reached a breaking point after Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, with the Palestinian leadership declaring that it would no longer accept Washington as a peace broker.

Acknowledging his push to broker peace in the Middle East had stalled, Trump on Tuesday threatened to cut off all aid to the PA, asking why Washington should make “any of these massive future payments” when the Palestinians were “no longer willing to talk peace.”

The United States currently gives the Palestinian Authority some $600 million in annual aid.

In a tweet, the US president dismissed Palestinian fury over his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying he had planned for Israel “to pay” in future negotiations for his declaration. But Palestinian intransigence was now preventing any progress on peace talks, he said.

Palestinian officials have slammed Trump’s threat, with Saeb Erekat, long-time leader of the Palestinian peace talks negotiation team, saying Wednesday the threatened aid cut would leave children starving in refugee camps.

On December 21, the UN General Assembly defied threats by the administration and voted 128-9 to reject Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A binding vote on the issue at the Security Council was vetoed by the US earlier that week.

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