US takes aim at UN Palestinian refugee agency, again

US takes aim at UN Palestinian refugee agency, again
The UNRWA has been a regular target of Israel and the Trump administration.
2 min read
06 August, 2018
The UNRWA provides vital services for millions of Palestinian refugees [Getty]

A UN agency for Palestinian refugees has been the target for criticism by the US again, after a senior official in President Donald Trump's administration blasted the department in an interview with Israeli media.

The unnamed source told Haaretz on Sunday that the mandate for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) "must be changed".

It was the latest attack by the Trump administration against the agency set up in 1949 to deal with the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were uprooted following the creation of Israel.

The source said that the UNRWA's existence had "perpetuated and exacerbated the refugee crisis", adding that only "change" will allow Palestinians to "reach their full potential".

But there also appears to be a financial motive behind the attacks, with the US announcing earlier this year it would cut its funding to the agency by half.

"UNRWA's financial situation has been unsustainable for a long time, and for years we have voiced the need for UNRWA to seek out new voluntary funding streams, increase financial burden-sharing among donors, and find ways to reduce expenditures," the official told the Israeli daily.

The frugal Trump administration has looked at ways to cut government spending in an array of areas, with overseas development a key target of the fiscal conservatives in power.

Trump's presides over one of the most unabashed pro-Israel governments in US history and has regularly tried to cut the Palestinian Authority down in size.

The State Department announced in January that it was withholding $65m out of a $125m aid package to the UNRWA, which is a vital lifeline for around 5 million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied territories.

This followed an outburst by Trump on Twitter against the refugee agency.

"We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect," he wrote.

"With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?"

These follow reports that senior Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner had tried to pressure Jordan to strip refugee status for 2 million Palestinians living in the kingdom.

Kushner had also called the UNRWA "corrupt, inefficient and doesn't help peace" in emails dated January and released by Foreign Policy this weekend.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had said the US attacks on the UNRWA are an attempt to "erase" the Palestinian issue.

Israel is a firm opponent of the UNRWA and denies Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes, following their displacement during the creation of the state.