Three months after indefinitely delaying the potential move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim, President Donald Trump has retained another core policy of preceding administrations by promising that annual American funding of $300 million to a UN agency that caters solely to Palestinian refugees will not be halted, Foreign Policy reported this week.
“Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, has privately assured the UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, that the United States, which provides more than $300 million to the agency each year, will maintain its current levels of funding to the organization,” the journal reported. “‘America has long been committed to funding UNRWA’s important mission, and that will continue,’ said one official at the U.S. mission to the United Nations.”
Foreign Policy noted that the US pledge runs “contrary to the administration’s push to rein in spending on UN relief programs elsewhere. It reflects growing concern that the imposition of sharp cuts to Palestinian relief programs could thwart the White House campaign to restart Middle East peace talks, and inject further political instability in a region that stands permanently perched on the brink of political upheaval.”
The decision also puts the US sharply at odds with the Israeli government. While Israel has historically recognized the stabilizing role played by UNRWA in providing key services to the 750,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants — who now number around five million people — more recently, it has urged that the agency be dissolved into the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which caters to the remainder of the world’s current 65 million refugees.
In June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a visiting Ambassador Haley that the time had come to “dismantle UNRWA and have its parts be integrated into the UN High Commission for Refugees,” after Israel discovered an underground tunnel beneath an UNRWA-run school in Gaza. Israel has long pointed to the consistent use of UNRWA schools and hospitals by Hamas terrorists in the coastal enclave as weapons depots, and in the process turning Palestinian civilians into human shields.
But Netanyahu’s proposal that UNRWA be taken over by UNHCR will face fierce rejection from the PLO and from Arab states. Unlike UNWRA, the UNHCR does not transfer refugee status to descendants. Should the Palestinians become UNHCR’s responsibility, Arab states and the PLO fear that would be the end of permanent refugee status for the Palestinians — and, in turn, the end of the PLO’s cornerstone “right of return” policy, which has provided a convenient alibi for the refusal of Arab states to integrate their Palestinian populations.
The US is not the only country pledging to continue UNRWA’s existence. On Thursday, the Canadian government announced that it will provide a further $25 million to the agency — prompting one Canadian Jewish organization to highlight the role played by UNRWA schools in normalizing antisemitic views of Jews and Israelis.
“Helping impoverished Palestinians in various Arab countries is certainly a positive, as many individuals do require assistance,” said Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada. But, he went on to point out, “UNWRA continues to facilitate antisemitism and the demonization of Israel.”
“UNWRA’s highly-politicized environment actually obstructs the best possible service to the Palestinians,” Mostyn said.
(C) 2017 . The Algemeiner . Ben Cohen