PA raps ‘vicious Israeli-US campaign’ targeting UNWRA

PA raps ‘vicious Israeli-US campaign’ targeting UNWRA

Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry claims Israel taking advantage of Washington’s recent policy decisions to expand settlements in West Bank

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki addresses the UN General Assembly during a debate over a resolution condemning US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, December 21, 2017. (YouTube screen capture)
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki addresses the UN General Assembly during a debate over a resolution condemning US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, December 21, 2017. (YouTube screen capture)

The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Affairs Ministry condemned a “vicious US-Israeli campaign” targeting the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency in a Friday statement, after an Israeli report that the US had frozen $125 million in aid to the organization.

“The current US-Israeli harmony aims to conclude final status issues including Jerusalem, land, borders and refugees from one side using the power of the occupation,” the PA Foreign Ministry said in a Friday statement, according to a translation from the official Wafa news outlet.

For its part, the US denied the Channel 10 report, saying a decision on UNWRA funding was still “under review.”

Channel 10 had reported that the $125 million in US funding should have been transferred to UNRWA by January 1, but was being held up because the White House is furious over the Palestinians’ reaction to Trump’s Jerusalem recognition last month. It said the US was also weighing slashing a total of $180 million in UNRWA aid altogether — about half its annual contribution.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

The PA Foreign Ministry also claimed that the Israeli government was exploiting recent US  policy decisions — namely US President Donald Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — in order to expand settlements in the West Bank that undermine the possibility for a two-state solution.

Hours earlier, the Defense Ministry committee responsible for authorizing construction in the West Bank published building plans for over 1,300 Israeli settlement homes that it intends to push through the various planning stages when it meets next Wednesday.

The statement concluded by calling on the UN and the entire international community to act against the “US-Israeli coup” against the peace process.

The declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital led Abbas to break off all contact with the Trump administration, and the Palestinian leader has refused to meet with US officials regarding the peace process, including envoy Jason Greenblatt and Vice President Mike Pence.

Palestinians receive aid at a United Nations distribution center (UNRWA) in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on July 31, 2014 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

On Tuesday, Trump threatened to cut off 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 Palestinians rely heavily on international aid, with many analysts, including Israelis, saying such assistance helps maintain stability in a volatile region.

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump tweeted. “They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more.”

It was not immediately clear whether Trump was threatening all of the budget, worth $319 million in 2016, according to US government figures.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to publicly address the reports of slashed American funding to UNRWA, Channel 10 reported Thursday that he is privately urging the US not to go through with the cuts.

The report said Netanyahu would publicly back the move, amid pressure from right-wing lawmakers such as Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, in order not to undermine Trump.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Dec. 20, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

But the Axios news site reported that Netanyahu has been in contact with the White House regarding UNRWA funding and that Israel prefers a “gradual disengagement” from the refugee agency.

In response to the report, the Prime Minister’s Office said: “Netanyahu supports President Trump’s critical attitude towards UNRWA and believes practical steps need to be taken in order to change the fact that UNRWA is being used to entrench the Palestinian refugee problem instead of solving it.”

An Israeli security source also told Channel 10 the funding cuts to UNRWA would make an already tense situation in Gaza “much worse.”

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