Continuing its aggressive moves in Middle East, US administration has announced cutting more than half of its planned funding to the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees.
According to Reuters, Heather Nauert, State Department spokeswomen, told reporters on Tuesday that it would provide $60 million to the UNRWA while withholding a further $65 million for now. Those funds are “frozen for future consideration”, she said.
In a letter, the department said that additional US donations will be contingent on major changes by UNRWA.
Washington’s move came immediately after Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO)’s National Council’s recommendation to revoke recognition to Israel at the end of two day conclave in Rammallah, West Bank.
Mehmoud Abbas, President of Palestinian Authority, while addressing the conclave on Sunday, criticised Trump for recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in defiance of international consensus and longstanding US policy. He said “Damn your money. I will give you a peace deal”. The (earlier) deal turned out to be a mess.
On January 3, Trump had threatened to cut the aid to Palestinians saying, “We will not pay for Palestinians because they stopped the negotiations. Where are the negotiations?”
Wasel Abu Youssef, a PLO official has immediately criticized the move, calling it to be a deliberate U.S. effort to deny the Palestinians their rights and linking it to Trump’s widely criticized Jerusalem move.
Responding to a journalist query, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General has said he was unaware of any cut in aid but he was “very concerned” about the possibility because it “is an important factor of stability.”
Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner General of UNRWA said in a statement that the reduced U.S. contribution “threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavours in the Middle East.” He said that it will compound the difficulty of reviving peace talks and further undermine Arab’s faith that US can act as impartial arbitrator.
The Israel-Palestine peace talks collapsed in 2014, partly because of Israel’s opposition to an attempted unity pact between the Fatah, the Mehmoud Abbas led group and Hamas, the resistance group having Iranian support, and partly to the continuing construction of Israeli settlements on occupied land sought by Palestinians for their future state.
For nearly 70 years, UNRWA has been the lifeline to more than five million Palestinian refugees in occupied territories, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. The funds are used to support their food supply, access to education, healthcare, social services and employment.
Aljazeera’s James Bays, reporting from UN says, “This is going to be a big blow.” United States is UNRWA’s largest donor comprising almost 30 percent of its budget.