Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law, was the driving force behind the US decision to completely cut off funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA), which coordinates aid for Palestinian refugees, "The New York Times" reports. The newspaper attributed the information to R. David Harden, an administrative assistant in the US Agency for International Development (USAID) until last April.
Kushner reportedly regards a halt in aid to UNRWA as part of a plan aimed at forcing Palestinian politicians to abandon their demands for the right of many refugees to return to within Israel's 1967 borders.
The decision to discontinue aid was taken in August at a meeting between Kushner and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. Harden said that Pompeo had opposed a drastic cut in aid to UNRWA, but Kushner's determined advocacy on this issue eventually proved decisive.
In a "The New York Times" interview, Harden severely criticized the cutoff, saying, “What we’re seeing right now is a capricious move that has a very high risk of unsettling the region,” Mr. Harden said, noting that the relief agency supported about five million refugees across the Middle East.
Harden said that senior Israeli figures had regularly objected to deep cuts in aid to UNRWA. He commented that the Israeli figures could still talk with their US counterparts in an effort to persuade them to change the decision and renew aid to UNRWA/.
The US Department of State officially announced the aid cutoff published yesterday. The statement read, "The Administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the US will not make additional contributions to UNRWA. When we made a US contribution of $60 million in January, we made it clear that the US was no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs that we had assumed for many years. Several countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Sweden, Qatar, and the UAE have shown leadership in addressing this problem, but the overall international response has not been sufficient.
"Beyond the budget gap itself and failure to mobilize adequate and appropriate burden sharing, the fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years - tied to UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries - is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years. The US will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation. We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business. These children are part of the future of the Middle East. Palestinians, wherever they live, deserve better than an endlessly crisis-driven service provision model. They deserve to be able to plan for the future.
"Accordingly, the US will intensify dialogue with the UN, host governments, and international stakeholders about new models and new approaches, which may include direct bilateral assistance from the US and other partners…"
Since 2010, the annual contribution of the US to UNRWA has averaged over $350 million and amounted to $360 million ion 2017.
Harvard Prof. and former senior US diplomat Nicholas Burns said yesterday that the cutoff of US aid to UNRWA was "… heartless and unwise… wrong on every level. It will harm innocent people, particularly young Palestinians.”
The official US statement does not address the question of the status of the refugees, which was one of the main issues in the international US administration discussions about potential peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Many assessments have recently been published saying that the US would call for significantly reducing the number of Palestinians recognized by UNRWA as refugees from the current five million, a number that includes all of the descendants of the Palestinians who left Israel when it was founded, to 500,000. The US is demanding that UNRWA grant refugee status only to those who actually left Israel, not to their descendants born elsewhere afterwards.
At a conference of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Tuesday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley was asked about the possibility that the US would stop aiding UNRWA. She did not confirm that this would happen, but added, "First of all, you're looking at the fact that, yes, there's an endless number of refugees that, continue to get assistance, but more importantly, the Palestinians continue to bash America."
Haley said that she had shown Trump a list of all of the countries that had benefited from US aid, adding later that she had told him that not all of these countries supported US views at the UN. She said that the recently absence of support by Palestinian leaders was particularly irritating.
Several hours after the official announcement yesterday by the US Department of State, PLO Steering and Monitoring Committee chief Saeb Erekat said that the Trump administration's pro-Israel bias disqualified the US from playing any role whatsoever in the peace process.
“By cutting aid, the U.S. is violating international law," Erekat declared, saying that UNRWA was an agency founded by the UN, not a Palestinian agency. He added, "… there is an international obligation to assist and support it until all the problems of the Palestinian refugees are solved.”
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 2, 2018
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