WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM/GENEVA, JANUARY 17 – The US State Department announced that the Trump administration is cutting 65 million dollars from its 125-million-dollar aid package to UNRWA, the UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees.
In a letter, it said it will ask the agency for a “fundamental re-examination” of its operations. The US will disburse the remaining 60 million dollars to prevent UNRWA from running out of cash by the end of the month and closing.
US President Donald Trump threatened cutting aid to the Palestinians if they didn’t return to peace negotiations with Israel. US Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the decision “is not aimed at punishing anyone”. She said further American contributions will be subordinated to important changes on the part of UNRWA, which has been heavily criticised by Israel.
The US announcement alarmed UN officials. According to Filippo Grandi, current UNHCR child and a former head of UNRWA, “financial crisis must be avoided, for the sake of millions of Palestinian refugees depending on its education and health services, and for the stability of countries hosting them in a troubled region” Concern has been expressed by the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Roberto Valent: “Some 2.5 million Palestinians in this area, or about half of the population, need humanitarian aid, including 1.4 million Palestine refugees, who are among the most vulnerable groups in the oPt. The reduction is particularly worrying against the backdrop of an overall decline in humanitarian funding in the oPt in recent years”.
Some 53 per cent of the funding requirements for humanitarian interventions in the oPt for 2018 are for UNRWA activities, in the areas of health, food security, shelter, water and sanitation, and education among others; US$286.7 million out of $539.7 million, Valent observed, stressing that “it is crucial that decisions related to humanitarian financing be guided by the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, in order to ensure that the essential needs of the most vulnerable are met. Member states are encouraged to increase funding towards meeting humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip at this critical juncture”. (@OnuItalia).