UN Palestinian Refugee Agency Seeking New Funding After US Cuts
The head of the United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees said Wednesday he is looking for “new funding alliances” after the United States announced it is withholding tens of millions of dollars.
Pierre Krahenbuhl said the U.S. decision leaves the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) with the most critical financial situation it has ever faced.
The United States is the agency’s top donor, and on Tuesday State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed to reporters that the Trump administration will withhold $65 million dollars from its initial 2018 contribution. Nauert said a $60 million tranche would be disbursed to avoid having a “negative impact.”
As UNRWA launches a global fundraising campaign, Krahenbuhl said he will do whatever possible to keep schools and clinics open.
“I call on member states of the United Nations to take a stand & demonstrate to Palestine refugees that their rights & future matter,” Krahenbuhl wrote on Twitter. He added that the dignity of the refugees and the stability of the region are at stake.
“We hope that the U.S. administration and Congress can cooperate in reversing this politically motivated cut in aid before its effects ripple through the Middle East,” said Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. “In the meantime, we call on other donor nations to stand with UNRWA and Palestinian refugees and cover the massive shortfall left by the U.S. administration.”
The United States has warned it could make further cuts if reforms are not made. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump said the United States provides hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid “and get no appreciation or respect.”
“We don’t believe that taking care of other nations and other people has to solely be the United States’ responsibility,” Nauert said, adding that Washington is asking other countries to contribute more to UNRWA.
UNRWA’s top ten donors provide over eighty percent of the agency’s income. They include after the United States, the European Union, Germany, Sweden, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands. UNRWA provides education and health services to five million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Less than two hours before the U.S. announcement, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said at a news conference that he had not been officially informed of the decision. But he warned that such a substantial funding cut would hurt.
“It is an important factor of stability, so if UNRWA will not be in a position to provide the vital services and the emergency forms of support that UNRWA has been providing, these will create a very, very serious problem, and we will do everything we can to avoid the situation to occur,” he told reporters.
The U.N. chief also noted that the “relationship between the United States and the Palestinian Authority is difficult and complex at the moment” and he hoped it would not undermine the possibility of peace talks.
Last month, the Trump administration wielded its first U.N. veto to block a Security Council resolution rejecting the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the move again Wednesday, saying Trump’s decision was “sinful.”
The United States was isolated in the vote, with the other 14 council members voting in favor of the text. Arab nations then moved to the General Assembly, where the resolutions are more symbolic but there is no veto, and got the measure adopted with overwhelming support.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters Wednesday he was certain the U.S. embassy move will happen sometime this year. The Trump administration has not announced any timetable.
Israel’s U.N. ambassador Danny Danon welcomed the U.S. announcement of the funding cut to UNRWA.
“UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate,” Danon said.
Randolph-Macon College history professor Michael Fischbach has made similar accusations for years.
“It falls into a long pattern of Israeli politicians and conservatives in the United States criticizing UNRWA for allegedly this that and the other thing, when the heart of the matter is Israel and the Palestinians are going to have to deal, as part of a peace process, with what to do with the Palestinian refugees,” Fischbach told VOA.
Victor Beattie contribued to this report.