US end funding for UN Palestinian refugee agency

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WASHINGTON, Sept 1, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – The United States announced it was
halting funding for the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees
Friday after declaring the organization was “irredeemably flawed.

Washington 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.

Nauert said there would be no additional contributions beyond a $60
million dollar payment made in January, drawing condemnation from both the
Palestinians and UNRWA.

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

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

“We reject and condemn this American decision in its entirety,” chief
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement, calling on all
countries “to reject this decision and to provide all possible support” to
UNRWA.

UNRWA also slammed the US decision, dismissing Nauert’s characterization
of the agency.

UNRWA “expresses deep regret and disappointment at the US’ announcement
that it will no longer provide funding to the Agency after decades of staunch
political and financial support,” spokesman Chris Gunness wrote on Twitter.

“We reject in the strongest possible terms the criticism that UNRWA’s
schools, health centers, and emergency assistance programs are ‘irredeemably
flawed,'” he said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that UNRWA has his “full
confidence,” calling on “other countries to help fill the remaining financial
gap, so that UNRWA can continue to provide this vital assistance.”

The agency supports some five million registered Palestinian refugees and
provides schooling for 526,000 children in the Palestinian territories as
well as in camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Fears over funding have already led to warnings from UNRWA that it may
have to permanently shut all the 711 schools that it runs after recent
temporary closures.

– US lost ‘status as peacemaker’ –

And while there was some relief for the agency on Thursday when Germany
said it would provide additional funding, UNRWA’s director Pierre Krahenbuhl
said earlier this week that the agency needs $200 million to continue its
work until the end of this year.

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.

Nauert said the US would “intensify dialogue with the United Nations, host
governments, and international stakeholders about new models and new
approaches” to help alleviate any impact on Palestinian children.

“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,” she added.

The 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.

“By endorsing the most extreme Israeli narrative on all issues including
the rights of more than five million Palestinian refugees, the US
administration has lost its status as peacemaker and is damaging not only an
already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace,” Zomlot said
in a statement to AFP.

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.

The Palestinian Authority has refused all contact with Washington since US
President Donald Trump announced late last year that he was unilaterally
recognizing Jerusalem — which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians
— as the Israeli capital, making the US one of very few countries to do so.

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.

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.”

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