Trump Admin eyes slashing funds to UN Palestinian agency

WASHINGTON, Jan 12: The Trump Administration’s budget-slashing campaign at the United Nations has a new target — a Palestinian refugee agency that critics say promotes an anti-Israel agenda in the Middle East, the Fox News reported on Friday.

President Trump has repeatedly warned his administration will pull funding from agencies that do not serve American interests. And before the UN General Assembly passed a resolution last month condemning the US decision to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem, he warned member states directly.

“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, then vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes,” he said. “Let them vote against us; we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

The attention is turning now to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides funding to Palestinian refugees.

Just a few weeks after that Israel vote, Axios reported that the US has frozen a $125 million payment to the agency. The move is possibly the first step in cutting off the entire $364 million a year the US contributes to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Trump hinted at such a move in a tweet this month, complaining about the amount the US gives to the Palestinians and asking “why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

UNRWA was set up in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war to deal with displaced Palestinians, but is a frequent target of Israel, which rejects a so-called “right of return” for the descendants of those who were displaced in the conflict.

UNRWA provides health care, education, financial assistance, and food to 5 million people in the Middle East, including Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The New York Times reports that nearly the entire population of the Gaza Strip receives aid from UNRWA and the agency acts as a “de facto government” in the area.

But critics also say UNRWA uses too broad of a definition for refugees, covering the descendants of Palestinian refugees, as well as people who have become residents in other countries and are no longer displaced. They also object that Palestinian refugees are the only refugees with their own refugee agency, with all other refugees coming under the remit of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the process an “absurdity” that perpetuates the problems it claims to be working to solve.

However, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described UNRWA as a “stabilising presence” in the region, and urged instead for efforts to focus on peace talks from both sides of the conflict. (UNI)