US stops funding to Palestinian refugee agency due to 'irredeemably flawed operation'
The US State Department said on Friday that the installment of $60 million it allocated to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in January was its last financial contribution to the organization, which helps provide healthcare and education to millions of Palestinians.
Outlining the reasons for its decision, Washington accused the agency of maintaining an unsustainable business model and practices, in particular providing assistance not only to the 700,000 people displaced from their homes in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, but also to their descendants. The total number of registered Palestinian refugees qualifying for the UN assistance is over five million.
"The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation," the State Department said. The US, which has been the agency's biggest donor, would no longer "shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA's costs," it stressed.
While ceasing its decades-old cooperation with the agency, Washington said it would considering helping refugees, namely Palestinian children, through "direct bilateral assistance."
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the agency is disappointed by the US move, which he called "all the more surprising given that UNRWA and the United States renewed a funding agreement in December 2017."
He called Washington out on labeling the agency "irredeemably flawed," saying "these very programs have a proven track record in creating one of the most successful human development processes and results in the Middle East."
3. These very programs have a proven track record in creating one of the most successful human development processes and results in the Middle East. The international state community, our donors and host countries have consistently praised UNRWA for its achievements and standards— Chris Gunness (@ChrisGunness) August 31, 2018
Moscow has pointed out that by ending its financial support for refugees, the US isn't helping the Arab-Israeli peace process.
“The US decision does not contribute to the advance of the Middle Eastern peace settlement, the significant part if which is the fair resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue,” Russia’s UN mission spokesman Fedor Strzhizhovskiy said.
Following the US announcement, the UN called upon other countries “to help fill the remaining financial gap." “We regret the United States’ decision to provide no further funding to UNRWA, which provides essential services to Palestine refugees and contributes to stability in the region,” stated Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The US decision to discontinue its financial backing of UNRWA puts a finishing touch to the Trump administration's gradual effort to phase out its assistance to Palestinians. Last week, the State Department told Congress that the administration would redirect over $200 million in funds earmarked for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
The $60 million the UNRWA has been given by the US this year is a far cry from the initially promised sum of some $365 million. The shortage of funds forced the cash-strapped agency to fire over 250 employees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and move some 580 to part-time jobs. The workers who had to leave their posts were involved in the UNRWA emergency program, which had to reduce its scope following the US decision.
Washington's quest to cut funding to the UN agency has been reportedly spearheaded by Trump's son-in-law and Special advisor for the Middle East Jared Kushner, Foreign Policy magazine reported last month. In an email Kushner sent to the US president's Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblat and other officials, he reportedly wrote that it was important "to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA."
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