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US cuts off all funding for Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA

UNRWA's funding shortfall is likely to affect sanitation, medicine and food security for 1.7 million Palestinian refugees, the UN has warned
SAID KHATIB (AFP/File)

The US State Department is cutting off all funding for the United Nations' agency for Palestinian refugees, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told i24NEWS on Friday as the decision was announced in Washington.

Despite reports in recent months of Israeli officials quietly urging the US not to end its funding to UNRWA, it appears the government of the Jewish state approves of the Trump administration's choice.

"Israel supports the US move," an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said on condition of anonymity.

"Consolidating the refugee status of Palestinians is one of the problems that perpetuates the conflict."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is "considering going to the UN General Assembly and Security Council to face the US decision on UNRWA to prevent the outbreak of things," according to Palestinians Presidency Spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeina.

MAHMUD HAMS (AFP/File)

The US has long been the UN Relief and Works Agency's (UNRWA) largest donor but is "no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement, branding the organization "irredeemably flawed."

UNRWA is the international body dedicated exclusively to providing humanitarian assistance to some five million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Just hours after the Palestinians warned such a move would further undermine the already flailing chances of peace with Israel, Nauert said there would be no additional contributions beyond a $60 million dollar payment in January.

"The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation," Nauert added.

In response, UNRWA expressed its "deep regret and disappointment," and rejected US claims that the organizations projects were "irredeemably flawed."

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness in a statement vowed that the agency would proceed with "even greater determination and engagement" to balance the shortfall in funds through support from other donor states.

Mandel Ngan (AFP/File)The

US however added that, they intended to work alongside other international groups to better assist the Palestinians who they said "deserve better than an an endlessly crisis-driven service provision model."

There have been widespread warnings about the impact about a halt to funding from the US which contributed $350 million to UNRWA's budget last year.

Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Hossam Zomlot, had earlier said that the US would be guilty of "reneging on its international commitment and responsibility" if reports that funding was to end were confirmed.

Palestinians President Mahmoud Abbas slammed the move as "flagrant assault against Palestinian people."

Whilst Erekat said that the US "is not entitled to support and blessing the theft of Palestinian lands and the illegal Israeli colonization of Palestinian land and the theft of Jerusalem and its annexation to Israel and is not entitled to act according to the whims of Sheldon Adelson and Binyamin Netanyahu."

He urged the international community "provide all possible support" until "the issue of refugees in all its aspects has been resolved."

"UNRWA is not an institution of the Palestinian Authority. It was created by a resolution of the UN. Therefore, the entire international community must reject and condemn the American decision," Erekat further added in his statement.

Speaking on behalf of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee, Hanan Ashrawi stated that "the real outcome" of the US decision is "destabilization of the entire region."

AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)

In January, Netanyahu seemed to harbor the same sentiment when he quietly urged the Trump administration not to cut funding to one of the primary sources of humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza, according to a report from Israel's Hadashot news channel.

On Friday, Germany's Foreign Minister Haiku Maas announced that his country would provide "significantly" increased aid to the organization in light of the US decision; however was yet to specify an amount.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also called on "other countries to help fill the remaining financial gap, so that UNRWA can continue to provide this vital assistance."

The United States also announced last week that it was canceling more than $200 million in bilateral aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

The Palestinians were further enraged by the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, which was attended by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has been tasked with trying to revive the essentially moribund Middle East peace process.

Kushner has publicly questioned Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas' willingness to make concessions to secure peace.

Haim Zach, GPO

Palestinian officials have countered that the Trump administration has come up with "nothing of substance" in trying to end the decades-old conflict despite the US president's stated confidence of securing what he calls "the ultimate deal."

Earlier this week, an Israeli television report suggested that the Trump administration will, in coming days, reject the UN definition of Palestinian refugees effectively snubbing the "right of return" of millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

Israel and the United States have both accused UNRWA of perpetuating the Israel-Palestinian crisis by maintaining the idea of the right of return -- that Palestinians will be able to return to the homes from which they fled.

And both governments say the UN as whole is biased against Israel, pointing to its long history of votes in the General Assembly against the Jewish state.

Established in 1949, the agency, was meant to be a temporary body to assist Palestinians fleeing their homes during the war surrounding Israel's establishment. It has since endured as body with the sole purpose of catering to the needs of Palestinian refugees and the subsequent generations until a political solution to the conflict is reached.

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