Will Trump and Israel Cut Off Aid to Millions of Palestinian Refugees?

The Trump administration and Israel have threatened to close down a United Nations agency dedicated to helping Palestinian refugees amid rumors that funding to the agency had already been cut.

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Last week, U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley said the Trump administration was seriously considering cutting funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), an agency that provides assistance to about 5 million Palestinian refugees. Haley said the Trump administration did not want to help Palestinians unless their leadership came to the negotiating table to work on a Middle East peace agreement with Israel.

On Friday, reports suggested the U.S. had already frozen a $125 million grant to UNRWA, which was supposed to be delivered on January 1. The U.S. later denied the report, saying the funding was still “under review.”

The U.S. gives a little more than $300 million a year to the agency, accounting for its primary source of funding.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he agreed with Trump’s reported decision to cut funding.

“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the problem of the Palestinian refugees,” Netanyahu said during a cabinet meeting Sunday. He added that the organization “must disappear” because the Palestinians’ right to return to Israel was a stance intended to eliminate the State of Israel.

Israeli television had previously reported that Netanyahu was quietly urging the Trump administration not to cut all UNRWA funding in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster in the region. The report suggested that Netanyahu would prefer that the funding cut be implemented gradually. It further suggested that Netanyahu was caught between his twin desires to publicly support Trump’s decision to cut funding while also maintaining stability in the region.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry openly tried to convince the U.S. not to cut funding to UNRWA.

Observers said UNRWA's support for Palestinian refugees actually helped Israel, by taking responsibility for the health, education and overall well-being of displaced Palestinians and their offspring. 

"Should UNRWA disappear, Israel, the occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza, which is legally charged with the well-being of the civilian population in the territory, would assume greater responsibility for the over 2 million refugees in the territory which UNRWA supports," Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told Newsweek.

He continued, "Israel is sending two messages. Privately, it understands that U.S. support for both UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority is in Israel's interest because it maintains the status quo and alleviates a financial burden for Israel. Publicly, it does not want to break with President Trump." 

UNRWA vowed to continue providing assistance to displaced Palestinians despite attacks from the U.S. and Israel, according to Al Jazeera. The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Affairs Ministry criticized the “vicious U.S.-Israeli campaign” targeting UNRWA. 

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