Palestinians reacted angrily on Saturday to a US decision to end all funding for the UN agency that assists three million needy refugees, seeing it as a new policy shift aimed at undermining their cause.
Washington, which until last year was by far the biggest contributor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), announced on Friday that it would no longer make any contributions to the irredeemably flawed operation.
To Palestinians, the right of return for the hundreds of thousands who fled or were expelled during the 1948 war that accompanied Israel’s creation is a central plank of their cause.
Its calling into question by Trump follows his December recognition of the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the axing of more than $200 million in bilateral aid for Gaza and the West Bank.
The new policy on Jerusalem overturned decades of precedent and prompted the Palestinian leadership to break off relations with the White House.
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashwrawi described the latest US move as cruel and irresponsible.
UNRWA was already facing a financial crisis after Trump announced a $300 million funding freeze in January but now faces the threat of major closures to its network of schools and health centers.
In the impoverished Gaza Strip, where most children learn in UNRWA schools, the US decision has raised fears for their future education.
A Gaza resident, Hisham Saqallah, 55, said the US move was political blackmail that would merely increase unrest.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness called the US decision highly regrettable, saying the organization would try to make up the $217 million shortfall.
He also warned of dramatic, widespread, profound and unpredictable consequences.
Jordan, which is one of just two Arab countries to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, already announced plans to organize an emergency fundraising conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US would intensify dialogue with the United Nations, host governments and international stakeholders about new models and new approaches for assisting needy Palestinians.
But Hugh Lovatt, Israel-Palestine analyst at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said Washington would find scant support for its push for an alternative aid conduit.
He said it was an attempt to unilaterally take the Palestinian right of return off the table.
But even if the US succeeds in eliminating UNRWA and changing the definition of the world’s 5.3 million registered Palestinian refugees, Palestinian refugees will remain, and will keep demanding their right of return.
Source: Palestine Chronicle