SWEIMEH, Jordan — The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Monday that UNRWA has dramatically reduced its budget shortfall despite US funding cuts, after Gulf and EU contributions.
“You are all aware how difficult this year has been for UNRWA in particular following the unexpected decision by the US to cut $300 million this year of UNRWA’s income,” commissioner general Pierre Krahenbuhl told a news conference in Jordan.
At the start of 2018, the UN agency faced a $446-million budget deficit, he said.
But after mobilizing to tackle the unprecedented financial crisis caused by the US cuts, “we have now reduced the shortfall… to $21 million,” he added.
“This is a very encouraging result at the end of a lot of work,” he told reporters after meeting with the agency’s advisory commission in Sweimeh on the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea.
Krahenbuhl thanked in particular Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar, saying they had helped plug the deficit by contributing $50 million each.
Their combined contribution of $200 million “is almost half of the total amount that we mobilized this year,” said Krahenbuhl, adding that aid also poured in from the European Union.
On Thursday, Krahenbuhl said the shortfall had been $64 million.
The United States, which was by far the biggest contributor to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), announced in August that it would no longer fund the agency.
The Trump administration, as well as Israel, say they oppose the way the organization operates and how it calculates the number of Palestinian refugees.
UNRWA was set up in 1950 to help Palestinian refugees who lost their homes because 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.
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.