Jared Kushner Wanted to Disrupt U.N. Agency That Supports Palestinian Refugees, Report Says

President Donald Trump's senior adviser Jared Kushner has been trying to abolish the United Nations aid agency that provides humanitarian relief to millions of Palestinian refugees, according to a report.

Internal emails obtained by Foreign Policy show that Trump's son-in-law discussed undermining the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)—created in 1949 to provide food and educational, medical and social services to Palestinians who were displaced following the establishment of the state of Israel—with other senior officials.

"It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner wrote in an email sent on January 11 to multiple senior officials. "This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace."

He also added: "Our goal can’t be to keep things stable and as they are…Sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there."

Later that month, an adviser to Trump's Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, wrote that closing the UNRWA would help resolve tensions. "UNRWA should come up with a plan to unwind itself and become part of the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] by the time its charter comes up again in 2019," the aide, Victoria Coates, wrote. 

The office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to the publication's report by saying the U.S. hoped to shut down negotiations about Palestinian refugees. 

"The determination of the Palestinian leadership and the steadfastness of our people will foil all conspiracies to end the Palestinian cause, and our people have thwarted all previous attempts to undermine their legitimate rights,” a statement released on Saturday by the Palestinian National Authority's news agency said. “The refugee issue is a final status issue, which will only be resolved through negotiations leading to a just and agreed solution in accordance with the resolutions of international legitimacy and the Arab Peace Initiative."

RTX6BY4B White House senior adviser Jared Kushner attends a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington on July 18. Emails show Kushner has advocated disrupting the U.N. agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees. REUTERS/Leah Millis

On January 16, just days after Kushner sent the email about disrupting the UNRWA, the U.S. cut about half of its funding to the agency, announcing it would withhold $65 million of the $125 million earmarked for aid.

The U.S. has provided significant aid to the UNRWA since its inception. In the 2017 fiscal year, the U.S. offered almost $360 million to the program, and the decision to slash its funding has severely threatened the relief agency's ability to carry out its duties. 

In June, Commissioner General of the UNRWA Pierre Krähenbühl warned that the agency was suffering from a $250 million shortfall and would soon lack money to distribute food and psychosocial services in the Gaza Strip.

Foreign Policy reported that "by trying to unwind UNRWA, the Trump administration appears ready to reset the terms of the Palestinian refugee issue in Israel’s favor—as it did on another key issue in December, when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital."

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the U.N., alleging the organization has an anti-Israel bias. In June, the U.S. withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council, claiming it had a "chronic bias" against Israel. In October 2017, the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), citing similar concerns.

"This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

The U.S. stance on Israel differs from that of its allies. European countries have supported U.N. Security Council resolutions criticizing Israel for its settlement activities, while the U.S. has vetoed such proposed resolutions.

In June, the U.S. blocked a resolution seeking to condemn Israel's use of force against Palestinian civilians in tensions that began in March and have continued since. Israeli forces have killed at least 154 Palestinians since March 30, when the protests began, according to Al Jazeera. In May, the U.S. blamed Hamas for the violence that took place on the Israel-Gaza border.

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