The Palestinian Authority is considering turning to the UN in a last-ditch effort to force Washington to continue funding the agency that deals with Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
The US announced on Friday that it is cutting nearly $300 million in planned funding for the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which it castigated for its practices, and will no longer fund the agency at all. The move drew swift condemnation from Palestinians, warnings from the agency’s administrators and praise from Israel.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said Saturday that the Palestinian leadership was considering going to the UN General Assembly and Security Council in a bid to get the US to reverse its decision.
Rudeineh said Washington’s latest decision “promotes terrorism” and is a violation of UN resolutions.
A day earlier, he described the move as a “flagrant assault against the Palestinian people and a defiance of UN resolutions.”
It’s unlikely that the UN General Assembly can force the US to fund the agency, which serves millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and refugee camps around the region, and the US would veto any Security Council resolution against it.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon dismissed the Palestinian plan to go to the UN and said the agency, which had already been warning of steep cutbacks to health and education programs, could not be saved.
“It’s the end of the line. Abbas needs to understand that going to the UN won’t help, UNRWA just perpetuates the conflict and incitement,” he said in a statement late Saturday. “I hope the money will now go to helping the population and not perpetuating terror.”
Israel has long called for the agency to be shut down.
“Consolidating the refugee status of Palestinians is one of the problems that perpetuates the conflict,” an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.
In a written statement Friday, the State Department said that the US “will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation.”
“The fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years – tied to UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries – is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years,” the statement said, a reference to the fact that the agency grants refugee status to the descendants of the original Palestinian refugees, something not granted by the UN to refugees from any other places.
However, the statement said the US would look for other ways to aid the Palestinians.
“We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business,” it said, adding that “Palestinians, wherever they live, deserve better than an endlessly crisis-driven service provision model. They deserve to be able to plan for the future.”
The US will now work together with other international groups to find a better model to assist the Palestinians, the statement said.
The US has been supplying nearly 30 percent of the total budget of UNRWA, which provides healthcare, education, and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
The US donated $355 million to the agency in 2016 and was set to make a similar contribution this year. In January the Trump administration released $60 million in funds but withheld a further $65 million it had been due to provide.
A senior Israeli official told Channel 10 news that Israel supports providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians, but not through UNWRA.
The US also indicated that it rejected the criteria by which UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees, whereby the UN agency confers refugee status not only on original refugees but on their millions of descendants.
The “right of return” is one of the key core issues of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim that five million people — tens of thousands of original refugees from what is today’s Israel, and their millions of descendants — should be allowed to resettle in the Jewish state. Israel rejects the demand, saying that it represents a bid by the Palestinians to destroy Israel by weight of numbers.
AFP contributed to this report