US working behind the scenes to help fund UNRWA

'UNRWA faces a chronic funding shortfall, and in 2015 we almost had to postpone the beginning of the school year for 500,000 students'.

August 28, 2017 06:11
2 minute read.
A veiled Muslim woman stands in front of a UNRWA sign

A veiled Muslim woman stands in front of a UNRWA sign. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The US is working behind the scenes to help find funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, Foreign Policy reported over the weekend.

It said that US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had promised the organization that the US would continue to provide more than $300 million for the organization.

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“UNRWA faces a chronic funding shortfall, and in 2015 we almost had to postpone the beginning of the school year for 500,000 students,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “This year our shortfall stands at a $126 million, and urgent action is required to avoid impacting our services. We appreciate the actions being considered by several of our donors to mobilize additional support.”

At the start of August, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon sent a letter to a number of donor countries, including Canada, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, asking them to provide UNRWA with $100m., according to Foreign Policy.

Haley had a firsthand view of the UNRWA operations when she spent time in its Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem during her visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in June.

At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Haley to support Israel’s call to dismantle the organization.

The UN provides assistance to all refugees worldwide through the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. The Palestinians are the only refugee group that has an organization solely dedicated to their welfare.

UNRWA opponents believe the organization has helped perpetuate the Palestinians’ status as refugees, particularly given that its services have extended beyond the descendants of the original refugee population from 1948.

UNRWA provides humanitarian services to over five million Palestinian refugees and their descendants in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

After Haley’s visit, Netanyahu said, “In various UNRWA institutions there is a lot of incitement against Israel, and therefore the existence of UNRWA – and unfortunately its work from time to time – perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem rather than solve it.

“Therefore, the time has come to dismantle UNRWA and merge its components with the [UN] High Commissioner for Refugees,” Netanyahu said. There are many Republican congressmen who support this stance.

The Trump administration has also spoken more globally of wanting to cut its support to UN institutions.

In addition, Congress is debating passage of the Taylor Force Act, which would halt funding to the Palestinian Authority unless it halts payments to terrorists and their families.

Still, when it comes to cutting funds to UNRWA, US politicians have been loath to deprive Palestinians of its services with regard to food assistance, health and education, including in Syria.

“UNRWA carries out indispensable work for over five million refugees in some of the most unstable areas of the Middle East. Our role is widely recognized as a contribution to dignity and stability,” Gunness said.

The agency receives generous support from partners, including host governments and donors, of which the US is the largest and this is highly valued, he said.

“We are working toward the best possible outcome in that regard and are deeply grateful to member states for their extraordinary support and commitment during this process,” Gunness said.

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