A Palestinian man stands next to a cart carrying a flour sack distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip January 3, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
There were cries of joy in Israel Tuesday when the United States threatened to cease funding for the Palestinian refugee aid organization UNRWA as long as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to return to the negotiating table.
But the Israeli Foreign Ministry, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has privately urged President Donald Trump's administration to back down from its threat, according to an Israeli TV report Thursday.
The ministry opposes the move for fear of an ensuing humanitarian disaster in Gaza, and perhaps a deterioration of the security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Channel 2 News report claimed.
The United States is UNRWA's largest donor. In 2016, it contributed $152 million directly to the organization and another $216 million to projects related to its work — totaling about a quarter of the agency's budget — according to UNRWA's donor charts.
US threatens to withhold aid cash to Palestinians, January 3, 2018 (Reuters)
An internal document prepared by the ministry said the move "may worsen the humanitarian situation and lead to catastrophe, especially in Gaza," adding that "it will not help, but on the contrary, it will [put the burden on] Israel." In addition, the sources noted that "IDF officials also believe cutting the budget will not help, to say the least."
On Tuesday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Trump "doesn't want to give additional funding or stop funding until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiating table. We're trying to move for a peace process. But if that doesn't happen, the president's not going to continue to fund that situation."
Trump took to Twitter to echo Haley's statement shortly after, saying the US gives the Palestinians "HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect."
Following the Foreign Ministry's assessment, it was reported that Netanyahu was in contact with the White House to nix the move, while maintaining support for it publicly.
“Behind the scenes, the prime minister is now in contact with the Americans in order to prevent the massive cut — to prevent it, you heard right,” the report claimed.
The Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on the report.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan responded to the report on Twitter, expressing astonishment.
"I find it hard to believe that the Foreign Ministry of Israel opposes a cut to UNRWA — the body that perpetuates the refugee problem instead of solving it and that aids terror in all kinds of ways that have been proven — we have to dismantle as quickly as possible," he wrote.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett praised the American decision to cut funding to UNRWA.
"UNRWA is a terror-supporting organization. Its very existence perpetuates the dire situation of Gaza's population, who suffer under the rule of Hamas. Aiding the residents of Gaza should be no different than aiding the Syrian residents suffering under a terror regime, or from aiding any other group of descendants of refugees," Bennett said.
"President Trump and Ambassador Haley's decision to cut American funding is the right choice. I expect all Israeli branches of government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to support a decision to cut funding to an organization which employs Hamas terrorists and uses its schools to hide rockets."Ma'ariv contributed to this report.