WASHINGTON (JTA) – The United States appears set to cut off funding altogether to UNRWA, the United Nations agency that administers relief for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
The United States has so far this year disbursed $60 million US to UNRWA. It sent $364 million US to UNRWA last year, by far the largest contribution of any entity and a third of the agency’s budget.
Quoting anonymous sources, Foreign Policy reported Tuesday that this month U.S. President Donald Trump, after consulting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and his son-in-law and leader of efforts to revive the Middle East peace process, Jared Kushner, decided the U.S. would contribute nothing further.
At a conference Tuesday at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, suggested that absent reforms no further U.S. money would go to UNRWA.
“We will be a donor if it reforms what it does,” she said of UNRWA, “if they actually change the number of refugees to an accurate account, we will look back at partnering them.”
UNRWA provides relief to some five million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Uniquely among refugee agencies, UNRWA identifies multiple generations of descent as refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees extends such recognition only to the second generation.
The Trump administration reportedly wants to slash the number of Palestinians eligible for UNRWA assistance to 500,000.
Host countries – including Israel, which controls the West Bank, and which controls most entry points into Gaza – fear the immediate collapse of UNRWA, saying it could lead to chaos. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has counselled for a managed long-term replacement of UNRWA. But the Trump administration has not outlined mechanisms that would replace UNRWA.
Liberal pro-Israel groups have already decried drastic Trump administration cuts to separate direct assistance to the Palestinians.
“The Trump Administration risks worsening already dire conditions in Gaza and stoking rising tensions in the West Bank,” the Israel Policy Forum said in a statement this week after the Trump administration announced $200 million in cuts to aid to the Palestinians.
“By virtue of this unfortunate decision, the U.S. is effectively gambling with Israeli-Palestinian relations, taking sweeping actions that could escalate the conflict without any credible strategy to calm the situation and return to the path of peacemaking,” the statement said.