As the U.S. slashes the Palestinian refugee agency’s budget, Netanyahu is urging it be abolished altogether. Some believe that shuttering UNRWA would somehow make the Palestinian refugee problem extinct. ‘Not true,’ says the agency’s director in Washington.
The Trump administration announced this week that it had cut by more than half its contribution to the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestinian refugees.
The agency provides life-saving assistance to 80 percent of the population in Gaza, food assistance for over a million Palestinians throughout the region, and schools for over half a million children.
Trump’s announcement of the funding cuts first came in a series of tweets in which he lamented getting “no appreciation or respect” from the Palestinian leadership, and its rejection of the his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” Trump tweeted in early January.
To better understand what is at stake and why some are taking advantage of this moment to advocate eradicating the agency altogether, +972 Magazine spoke with Elizabeth Campbell, Director of the UNRWA Representative Office in Washington. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Do we know yet when this decision would take effect, and how soon it would impact the agency?
The decision has already been made. UNRWA received $60 million from the United States and at this time has no information that there will be any additional funding forthcoming. It is more than an 80 percent cut over last year’s funding. It is already impacting the Agency in every possible way, since the United States was the largest donor. We are mobilized and responding by asking every citizen who cares about helping to keep 525,000 kids in school to donate to UNRWA.
Israel has taken the U.S. funding cuts as an opportunity to renew its demand that UNRWA be dismantled and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, ultimately take responsibility for Palestinian refugees. Why does Israel want that, and what would the consequences be?
UNRWA is mandated by the majority of the UN’s member states to provide assistance and protection to five million refugees. To change this mandate, the members of the UN would need to revise UNRWA’s mandate. UNHCR is unable and unwilling to otherwise take responsibility for Palestine refugees. The two main reasons that people argue for this is because they...Read More