US Withholds $65 Million Aid To Palestinian Refugee Programmes

| January 17 , 2018 , 10:07 IST

After withholding financial aid to Pakistan worth nearly $2 billion, the United States is now withholding $65 million aid for Palestinian refugees, calling for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) responsible for the programme to undertake a “fundamental re-examination”, the State Department said.

The UNWRA focuses on providing health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon after hundreds of thousands were forced to flee during the war that led to the establishment of Israel in 1948. Currently, there are around 5 million refugees and their decedents scattered across the region. The US provides nearly 30 percent of the UNWRA's entire budget going to the welfare of the Palestinians.

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The US State Department notified the UN Relief and Works Agency on Tuesday that the US is withholding $65 million of a planned $125 million funding instalment, although it will be releasing $60 million to prevent the agency from running out of funds by the end of the month.

“We would like to see some reforms be made,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, adding that reforms are required to change the way the agency operates and is funded.

The UNRWA condemned the withdrawal of funds.

“Given the long, trusted, and historic relationship between the United States and UNRWA, this reduced contribution threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavors in the Middle-East,” UNRWA chief Pierre Krahenbuhl said in a statement.

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After United States President Donald Trump recognising the contested city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the withdrawal of funds from the refugees is being perceived as another move against the Palestinians.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization slammed the move, saying it is targeting “the most vulnerable segment of the Palestinian people and depriving the refugees of the right to education, health, shelter and a dignified life.”

In a statement, the PLO leadership said, “It is also creating conditions that will generate further instability throughout the region and will demonstrate that it has no compunction in targeting the innocent.”

Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, praised the move, alleging that the UNRWA misuses humanitarian aid to support propaganda against the Jewish state, contribute to Palestinian militancy and perpetuate the Palestinians’ plight.

“It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed towards their intended purpose: the welfare of refugees,” Danon said in a statement.

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US President Trump on January 3 lashed out on Palestinians, saying that despite paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the Palestinians give no appreciation or respect, nor are they willing to negotiate peace.

"It's not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect," Trump tweeted.

"They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?" he added.