More than half of US Democratic Congressmen call for an end to UNRWA cuts
MOHAMMED ABED (AFP/Archives)
More than one hundred Congressmen signed a petition where they call on US President Donald Trump to change his mind on UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which has been subject to radical cuts by his Administration.
All Congressmen who signed the petition were Democratic, and the final number of 102 signatures constitutes more than half the Democratic representation in Congress.
"The Israeli Government deems UNRWA’s work providing basic services and education to Palestinian refugees so consequential for Israeli security that it has reportedly weighed in with your administration in support of maintaining U.S. contributions to the agency, despite frequent criticism of it," the Congressmen said in the letter.
Donald Trump sent shock-waves across the agency when the US's freeze of half its first 2018 contribution to UNRWA was announced.
...peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
The US announced the $65 million cut to its planned contribution to UNRWA in January, with State Department officials insisting the decision was taken not to pressure Palestinian leaders but to encourage other countries to help pay for and reform UNRWA.
“We would like to see some reforms be made,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “This is not aimed at punishing anyone.”
“We don’t believe that taking care of other nations and other people have to be solely the United States’ responsibility,” she added, echoing one of Trump’s most common complaints about “burden sharing”.
In the letter, however, the 102 Democratic Congressmen argued that the cuts "deliberately exacerbate the hardship of the Palestinian people and reduce the ability of their government to function which would "only contribute to the benefit of those who reject engagement".
"Extremist and anti-Israel groups would be all too eager to fill in the vacuum, deepening their hold in the region and expanding their destructive influence on the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” protested the letter.
UNRWA is specifically dedicated to serving some 5.3 million registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and throughout the Middle East. Other refugees throughout the world receive aid through the UN Refugee Agency under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Israel has often criticized UNRWA, accusing it of perpetuating the plight of Palestinians by allowing the descendants of first-generation Palestinian refugees -- those who fled what is today Israel when it was declared an independent state in 1948 -- to maintain refugee status in their host countries.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for UNRWA to be shut down altogether, and for funds to be rerouted to the Palestinians through the same UN branch dedicated to serving the rest of the world's refugees.
The Palestinians slammed the funding cut as evidence that the Trump administration “seems to be following Netanyahu’s instructions to gradually dismantle the one agency that was established by the international community to protect the rights of the Palestinian refugees and provide them with essential services.”
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