The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Tuesday blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the United States’ decision to slash funding to the UN relief agency for Palestinians (UNRWA).
The State Department on Tuesday notified the UN Relief and Works Agency by letter that the US was withholding $65 million of a planned $125 million funding installment to the body. The letter also makes clear that additional US donations will be contingent on major changes by UNRWA, which has been heavily criticized by Israel.
“We would like to see some reforms be made,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, adding that changes are needed both to the way the agency operates and is funded. “This is not aimed at punishing anyone.”
The State Department said it was releasing the rest of the installment — $60 million — to prevent the agency from running out of cash by the end of the month and closing down.
“The US Administration seems to be following Netanyahu’s instructions to gradually dismantle the one agency that was established by the international community to protect the rights of the Palestinian refugees and provide them with essential services,” said Hanan Ashrawi on behalf of the PLO Executive Committee.
“This administration is thereby targeting the most vulnerable segment of the Palestinian people and depriving the refugees of the right to education, health, shelter and a dignified life,” she said.
The PLO official said that shaving $65 million off the US donation would destabilize the region.
“It is also creating conditions that will generate further instability throughout the region and will demonstrate that it has no compunction in targeting the innocent,” she said, adding that, “Once again the US Administration proves its complicity with the Israeli occupation.”
Ashrawi also met with representatives of Germany and Norway, encouraging them and other European nations to work towards a two-state solution, recognize a Palestinian state, and increase their country’s contributions to UNRWA, the Palestinian Authority’s official news station Wafa reported.
Israel has often criticized UNRWA, accusing it of sheltering terrorists and allowing Palestinians to remain refugees even after settling in a new city or country for many generations, thus complicating a possible resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The US decision was applauded on Tuesday by Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and some ministers.
US President Donald Trump earlier this month threatened to cut US aid to the Palestinians, saying on Twitter that Washington gets “no appreciation or respect” from the Palestinians.
“We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump tweeted on January 3.
It's not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
“With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
Although Trump referred to all US assistance to the Palestinians, the contribution to the refugee agency would be the first to be affected.
The agency focuses on providing health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
On Monday, the United Nations said the work of the agency was “critical” and if the United States or any other donor cuts its contributions “we will have to find other sources.”