RAMALLAH/JERUSALEM: Palestinian officials denounced the US decision to end its decades of funding for the UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees and their descendants, which Israel has described as a welcome move.
Washington's move to end support for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was “an attack on the rights of the Palestinian people,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman said in a statement.
“(It) does not serve peace but rather strengthens terrorism in the region,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeneh said.
Israel it's just right that stopped funding an organization that supports some five million Palestinians of perpetuating the Middle East conflict.
Israel and the US have accused the nearly 70-year-old agency of maintaining the idea that many Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to the homes from which they fled or were expelled during the 1948 war that accompanied Israel’s creation, an idea they both oppose.
On Friday, Washington, which until last year was by far the agency’s biggest contributor announced it was ending funding to the “irredeemably flawed operation.”
“Israel supports the US move,” an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on condition of anonymity.
“Consolidating the refugee status of Palestinians is one of the problems that perpetuates the conflict.
Abu Rudeneh said the Palestinian leadership was considering appealing to the UN Security Council to confront the American stance. “This decision, which violates all resolutions of international legitimacy, requires the UN to take a firm stand against the US decision and to take appropriate decisions,” he said. “Whatever the size of the conspiracies aimed at liquidating the Palestinian cause, this will only increase the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and its leadership.” The US supplies nearly 30 percent of the total budget of the UNRWA and had been demanding it carry out significant reforms to what it called an “irredeemably flawed operation.” The decision cuts nearly $300 million of planned support. Hossam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to Washington, earlier warned Washington against canceling all US aid to the UN agency. Zomlot said that by cutting its aid, the US was “reneging on its international commitment and responsibility.” Zomlot is the official representative in Washington of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). “By endorsing the most extreme Israeli narrative on all issues including the rights of more than five million Palestinian refugees, the US administration has lost its status as peacemaker and is damaging not only an already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace,” Zomlot said in a statement. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the agency had his “full confidence” and called on “other countries to help fill the remaining financial gap, so that UNRWA can continue to provide this vital assistance.” UNRWA was established after Israel’s 1948 War of Independence to singularly aid some 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes. Over time, the number bloomed to an estimated 5 million refugees and their descendants, mostly scattered across the region, who had an aid agency devoted solely to them while the rest of the world’s refugees had to depend on the general UNHCR refugee agency. Palestinian leaders assert the right of those refugees to return to land now under Israeli control. Israel has long argued the agency was politicized, ineffective and merely perpetuated the refugee crisis. However, Palestinians have come to heavily rely on UNRWA’s expansive health, education and social services, particularly in impoverished Gaza. Adnan Abu Hasna, the UNRWA spokesman in Gaza, said they currently have 280,000 students in 274 schools and provide food aid to more than 1 million people. “Stopping or cutting aid to UNRWA could really affect UNRWA’s operations,” he said. “We don’t think cutting this aid will help stability or pushing the peace process.” The move follows the American slashing of more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians, and as the Trump Mideast team plans its rollout of the much-anticipated yet unclear peace plan. Trump has said that his recognition of Jerusalem had taken the prickly issue off the negotiating table and he may be trying to do the same with the refugees, another long-standing stumbling block. The Palestinian leadership has been openly hostile to any proposal from the administration, The Palestinians fear the US is putting pressure on host countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Syria to absorb their refugee populations and eliminate the issue from future peace negotiations. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem accused the US of going after UNRWA to eliminate the Palestinian right to return to their future homes.
(With AP & AFP)_