After Haley threat, US evaluating funding for UN’s Palestinian refugee agency

After Haley threat, US evaluating funding for UN’s Palestinian refugee agency

‘We continue to review the impact and effectiveness of UNRWA’s aid programs,’ US official says, while noting agency is a ‘stabilizing force’ in Mideast

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks with the press at United Nations headquarters in New York City on January 2, 2018. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks with the press at United Nations headquarters in New York City on January 2, 2018. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is currently evaluating its financial backing of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, a US official said Wednesday, while noting that the US views UNRWA’s work as vital to stability in the region.

The comments came a day after US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley warned US support for UNRWA would end if Ramallah refuses to enter negotiations with Israel.

“We continue to review the impact and effectiveness of UNRWA’s aid programs,” the official told The Times of Israel, referring to the UN Relief and Works Agency. “This is prudent, and indeed, it is our duty to the American taxpayer.”

However, the official also praised UNRWA.

Palestinian children attend a class at the UNRWA elementary school in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, in April 2013 (Illustrative photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)

The US has “long supported UNRWA for its important and life-saving humanitarian work, and recognizes its role as a stabilizing force and a counterweight to violent extremism, which is essential for stability in the Middle East region,” the official said.

Since US President Donald Trump on December 6 formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion plans to move the US embassy there, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said Washington can no longer function in its traditional role as a mediator in peace talks; he has not said he would not negotiate with Israel.

US President Donald Trump (L) and PA President Mahmoud Abbas leave following a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Abbas has also refused to meet with American diplomats on Trump’s team responsible for shepherding a peace push, including Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and Vice President Mike Pence, who is due to arrive in the region later this month.

That reaction has angered the administration, eliciting a tweet from Trump himself Tuesday night threatening to cut aid to the Palestinians.

After saying Israel would have had to “pay” a diplomatic price for the Jerusalem recognition, Trump asked why the US should make “any of these massive future payments” when the Palestinians were “no longer willing to talk peace.”

Trump’s tweet followed Haley’s remarks, in which she was asked by a reporter if the US would continue to provide funding to UNRWA, which provides aid to millions of Palestinian refugees, after the UN General Assembly passed a resolution last month condemning the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Haley said Trump was prepared to cut aid to UNRWA if the Palestinians refused to return to peace talks.

“I think the president has basically said that he doesn’t want to give any additional funding until the Palestinians are agreeing to come back to the negotiation table,” she said. “We’re trying to move for a peace process but if that doesn’t happen the president is not going to continue to fund that situation.”

The United States was the biggest donor to UNRWA in 2016, giving $368,429,712. It is also the largest overall supplier of financial support for the Palestinians.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley voting against a Security Council resolution on Jerusalem on December 18, 2017. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)

In her remarks, Haley also defended her veto last month of a Security Council resolution condemning Trump’s declaration, in which he also vowed to move the American embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“I stood proudly even if I was the only hand in the Security Council to fight for the will of the people of the United States,” she said. “They wanted to see the embassy moved to Jerusalem and we followed through with that.”

The US was the only country in the 14 member body to vote against the measure, and exercised its veto. In the General Assembly, it passed by 128 votes to 9.

US officials have been insisting that they remain intent on seeking a peace treaty. When Greenblatt came to the region two weeks ago, even though he was shunned by Ramallah, the administration stressed the peace effort remained a priority.

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