Trump administration ends funding for Palestinian refugee agency

UNRWA educates about 500,000 children in nearly 700 schools and its doctors see more than 9 million patients in nearly 150 primary health clinics every year.

Trump administration ends funding for Palestinian refugee agency
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Palestinian youth draw during a summer camp at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school on July 23, 2016 in Gaza City Mahmud Hams (AFP)

Washington: The United States is halting its funding for the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees after determining that the organization is “irredeemably flawed,” the State Department has said.

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 on Friday.

Just hours after the Palestinians warned such a move would further undermine the already flailing chances of peace with Israel, Nauert said there would be no additional contributions beyond a $60 million dollar payment in January.

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

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

But 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 a peacemaker and is damaging not only an already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace,” Zomlot said in a statement to AFP.

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 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.

UNRWA offers educational, health and social services across the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to registered Palestinian refugees. It also educates about 500,000 children in nearly 700 schools and its doctors see more than 9 million patients in nearly 150 primary health clinics every year.