September 01, 2018 20:07:31
The United States has halted all funding to a UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees, in a move likely to further heighten tensions between the Palestinians and the Trump administration.
- UNRWA says it helps around 5 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East
- The US had withheld $82m of funding in January, pending a review
- The UN has called for other countries to fill funding gap, with Germany already offering to help
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the business model and fiscal practices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) were an “irredeemably flawed operation.”
“The administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA,” she said in a statement.
Ms Nauert said the agency’s, “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.”
A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the decision as, “a flagrant assault against the Palestinian people and a defiance of UN resolutions.”
“Such a punishment will not succeed to change the fact that the United States no longer has a role in the region and that it is not a part of the solution,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.
He said “neither the United States nor else will be able to dissolve” UNRWA.
UNRWA says it provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza.
Most are descendants of people who fled Palestine in the 1948 war that led to the creation of the state of Israel.
US President Donald Trump and his aides say they want to improve the Palestinians’ plight, as well as start negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
But under Mr Trump, Washington has taken a number of actions that have alienated the Palestinians, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
That move — a reversal of longtime US policy — led Palestinian leadership to boycott Washington’s peace efforts.
UNRWA has faced a cash crisis since the United States, long its biggest donor, slashed funding earlier this year, saying the agency needed to make unspecified reforms and calling on the Palestinians to renew peace talks with Israel.
The United States paid out $75 million (US$60 million) to UNRWA in January but withheld another $82 million ($US65 million) pending a review.
At the time Mr Trump tweeted that “with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
UN calls on other countries to help, Germany responds
Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary General, said he regrets the decision of the United States, who he said had traditionally been the largest single contributor to the UNRWA.
He praised the work of those at the UNRWA and called on other nations to help fill the funding gap left by the US.
“UNRWA has a strong record of providing high-quality education, health and other essential services, often in extremely difficult circumstances, to Palestine refugees who are in great need,” Mr Dujarric said in a statement.
“The Secretary-General calls on other countries to help fill the remaining financial gap, so that UNRWA can continue to provide this vital assistance, as well as a sense of hope to this vulnerable population.”
Earlier on Friday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Germany would increase its contributions to UNRWA because the funding crisis was fuelling uncertainty.
“The loss of this organisation could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction,” Mr Maas said.
In Gaza, the Islamist group Hamas also condemned the US move as a “grave escalation against the Palestinian people.”
“The American decision aims to wipe out the right of return and is a grave US escalation against the Palestinian people,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
He said the “US leadership has become an enemy of our people and of our nation and we will not surrender before such unjust decisions.”
September 01, 2018 19:33:54