UN launches aid appeal for Palestinians amid US funding cuts

United Nations asks donor countries for less money than in previous years, saying it must be ‘realistic’ after Trump administration slashed almost all funding

A Palestinian man transports bags of flour outside an aid distribution center run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip ,on September 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A Palestinian man transports bags of flour outside an aid distribution center run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip ,on September 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The United Nations on Monday urged donor states to give $350 million in aid for Palestinians in 2019, saying it needed more but had to be “realistic” following swathing US cuts.

The UN said the appeal, down from $539 million in 2018, was due to a lack of available donor funds across the globe.

It aims to support 1.4 million Palestinians through more than 200 projects.

The United States has announced it will cut almost all of its aid to Palestinians, having previously provided around $500 million a year through different mechanisms including the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA.

The appeal for funds, called the Humanitarian Response Plan and done in conjunction with Palestinian authorities, received in the past $100 million in US funding.

UN Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Jamie McGoldrick in his Jerusalem office, October 31, 2018 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Jamie McGoldrick, UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said due to a lack of donors the UN had to be more “realistic” when asking for funds.

“We have taken this humanitarian response plan to the most focused and prioritized it could possibly be,” he said at the launch of the appeal in Ramallah.

The majority of the funds will go to the Gaza Strip, where two million Palestinians live under the rule of terrorist group Hamas with more than two thirds relying on aid.

With its economy in a free fall and tensions with Israel rising, Gaza is imploding, UN envoy for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov warned in October.

Last year the UN appeal received only $220 million of the funds requested.

Areas that have seen major decreases in funding include water, food security and shelter, UN officials said.

The United States had been by far the biggest contributor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees and the cuts dealt a massive blow to its already stretched finances.

It threatened the closure of UNRWA schools both in the Palestinian territories and in the diaspora, just weeks into the new academic year, as well as clinic closures and major job cuts.

Palestinian school children chant slogans and raise the victory gesture over a UN flag during a protest at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school, financed by US aid, in the Arroub refugee camp near Hebron in the West Bank on September 5, 2018. The United States, the biggest contributor to the UNRWA, announced on August 31 that it was halting all funding to the organization, which it labelled “irredeemably flawed” (AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER)

The Trump administration, as well as Israel, say they oppose the way the organization operates and how it calculates the number of Palestinian refugees.

Both the US and Israel also castigate the Palestinian Authority for paying stipends to “martyrs” — including to jailed terrorists and security prisoners, and to the families of terrorists.

UNRWA was set up in 1950 to help Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Its assistance includes schools, healthcare centers and food distribution.

More than 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation and during the Six Day War in 1967.
They and all their descendants are deemed by the UN agency to be refugees who fall under its remit.

Israel accuses UNRWA of helping to perpetuate the Palestinian narrative of Israel’s illegitimacy by, uniquely, granting refugee status to the descendants of refugees, even when they are born in other countries and have citizenship there, conditions that do not apply to the refugees cared for by the UN’s main refugee agency, UNHCR, which cares for all other refugees worldwide. The population of Palestinian refugees thus grows each year.

FILE – In this Jan. 31, 2014 file photo released by UNRWA, shows residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria (UNRWA via AP, File)

The “right of return” is one of the key issues of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim that the five million people the UN recognizes as refugees have the right to return to their homes in Israel proper. Israel, for its part, rejects this demand, saying that it represents a bid by the Palestinians to destroy Israel by weight of numbers.

Israel’s population is almost nine million, some three-quarters of whom are Jewish. An influx of millions of Palestinians would mean Israel would no longer be a Jewish-majority state.

Aside from ending all US funding of UNRWA, the Trump administration has also cut $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians for projects in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

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