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5 Aug, 2018 04:58

Kushner wants 'honest effort to disrupt' Palestinian refugee agency, Abbas up in arms

Kushner wants 'honest effort to disrupt' Palestinian refugee agency, Abbas up in arms

The Palestinian authorities have slammed a reported plan by the US President's special adviser Jared Kushner to dismantle the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, saying it's a plot to take a key issue off any future negotiations.

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has described the newly-surfaced plan, allegedly outlined by Kushner in internal correspondence in January, as a "continuation of the subversive plots to eliminate the Palestinian problem." By insisting on unraveling the decades-old United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Washington seeks to strike the issue of the Palestinians displaced during the Arab-Israeli war off the agenda of any future negotiations, which is unacceptable, Abbas said on Saturday.

On Friday, Foreign police magazine revealed that Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law in charge of mediating a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, has been spearheading an effort to get rid of UNRWA. In an email to the US President's Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and several other officials, dated January 11, Kushner reportedly wrote that "it is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA."

Advocating for the dissolution of the organization that helps provide healthcare and education to tens of thousands of Palestinians, Kushner wrote that the US cannot let the situation remain stable and has to "strategically risk breaking things" to achieve its wide-reaching goals.

In line with his goal to render UNRWA obsolete, Kushner allegedly sought to put pressure on Jordan so it will no longer recognize some 2 million Palestinian refugees as such during a leg of his Middle Eastern tour in June. Kushner reportedly tried to persuade the Jordanian government to resettle the Palestinians within its borders without UNRWA being involved, according to a Palestinian official cited by FP.

Head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Saeb Erekat reported on Kushner's attempt to buy the Arab countries' support in his quest to eliminate the UN agency back in June.

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"They (the Trump administration) approached the host countries of the Palestinian refugees to ask how much UNRWA used to spend there and offered to give it directly to them," Erekat said, claiming that Jordan said "no" to the generous offer.

UNRWA, which was founded in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, defines refugees as "persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict." In addition to those originally displaced from their homes, it also views their descendants as applicable for refugee status.

The latter principle, which has seen the number of registered Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and Gaza exceed five million, has long been a bone of contention between the agency and the Israeli authorities, who regard their return, however unlikely it looks at this point, as a threat to the recently codified Jewish character of the nation-state.

UNRWA has had to scale back its assistance to Palestinian refugees in Gaza after the US, which was the agency's biggest donor, slashed its contribution by $250 million. The move left the agency cash-strapped and sparked an urgent call for donors, backed by the UN officials including Secretary General Antonio Guterres. "We must do everything possible to ensure that food continues to arrive, that schools remain open and that people do not lose hope," he told a fundraising conference in New York in June. 

Trump has put Kushner in charge of devising a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, that has been in the works for 18 months and which is rumored to include points that are unacceptable to Ramallah. The tensions between Israel and Palestine were ratcheted up by the US recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and the grand opening of its embassy there in March, which was followed by months of deadly clashes.