EU urges US to reconsider 'regrettable' decision on UN Palestinian agency

EU urges US to reconsider 'regrettable' decision on UN Palestinian agency
The EU stressed the importance of continued international support for UNWRA which runs schools for hundreds of Palestinian children across the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

3 min read
02 September, 2018
Most children in the impoverished Gaza Strip learn in UNRWA schools [Getty]

The European Union urged the United States to reconsider "its regrettable decision" to halt funding for the United Nations relief and works agency [UNRWA] for Palestinian refugees on Saturday.

The EU stressed the importance of continued international support for UNWRA which runs schools for hundreds of Palestinian children across the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

"The regrettable decision of the US to no longer be part of this international and multilateral effort leaves a substantial gap," a spokesperson for the EU's diplomatic service said in a statement.

"And we hope that the US can reconsider their decision," said the spokesperson for the European External Action Service.

"The US have always played, and will continue to play, an essential role in any effort to achieve peace in the Middle East," the statement said. 

"The EU will continue to engage with the US and its other regional and international partners to work towards that common goal."

The remarks came after Washington, which has long been UNRWA's largest donor, announced it was "no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden”.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement on Friday that there would be no additional contributions beyond a $60 million dollar payment made in January, drawing condemnation from both the Palestinians and UNRWA but a welcome from Israel.

Nauert called UNWRA a "redeemably flawed operation."

The 28-nation EU, the biggest collective contributor to UNWRA, said it will discuss with its international partners "how to ensure sustainable, continued and effective assistance to the Palestinians, including through UNRWA," in the run-up to the UN General Assembly this month. 

The German government is planning a significant increase in its aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), in attempt to help the agency overcome a funding crisis.

"The loss of this organisation could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction," German foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a letter to EU foreign minister, according to Reuters.

"We are currently preparing to provide an additional amount of significant funds," he said.

Maas gave no indication of how much the increase will be but said it will not cover the deficit caused by the US cuts. 

He urged the EU and other states to work towards "a sustainable finance basis for the organisation".

This year, Germany contributed 81 million euros ($94 million) in aid for UNWRA.

The US supplies nearly 30 percent of the total budget of UNRWA, which provides health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Jordan announced on Thursday it would lead a campaign to raise funds to help sustain UNRWA.

It is set to host a fundraiser for the agency at the UN headquarters next month. 

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the New York event seeks to "close the gap and put in place a plan that will ensure UNRWA's continued, ongoing funding for the coming years".

The agency was created in 1949 to support 750,000 Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes during the war surrounding the creation of Israel. Those still alive today along with their descendants are classified as refugees.