WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations questioned on Tuesday the credibility of Palestinian claims to a “right of return” to lands in modern-day Israel, touching on one of the most sensitive topics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Accepting an honor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Nikki Haley was repeatedly asked by Clifford May, the organization’s president, to comment on reports that the administration will soon target the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, a body which treats the descendants of refugees from 1940s Mandate Palestine as refugees themselves, by cutting the rest of its funding to the body and challenging its qualifications for refugee status.The Trump administration has already cut much of its funding to UNRWA, and Haley’s response suggests a complete cut is in the offing.“You’re looking at the fact that, yes, there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance,” she said. But she said the issue was “bigger” than that. “The Palestinians continue to bash America,” she said, while “they have their hand out wanting UNRWA money.”“UNRWA can stay there, and we can be a donor if they reform,” Haley continued, declining to endorse a proposal to wrap UNRWA – a refugee body devoted exclusively to the Palestinian cause – into the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR. “We will look back at partnering them.”She called on specific countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, among others – to contribute to UNRWA, noting that the US remains its primary benefactor.“I absolutely think we have to look at right of return,” she added.Trump administration officials have declined to comment or push back against reports that they will soon roll out their position on a “right of return,” long criticized by the Israeli government as an attempt by Palestinians to undermine the Jewish nature of the state.The US has long supported a two-state solution that results in “two states for two peoples” – one Jewish state of Israel, and one Arab state of Palestine. The Trump administration has been working on a plan for peace talks but has not yet endorsed the two-state solution outright.The Palestinian Authority cut off contact with the White House after it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year, and moved the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv in May.Haley said the PA would need to reengage for there to be serious peace talks – and that the White House would need the help of regional allies to get the Palestinians there.“We have to have them come to the table for a peace agreement,” she said, and “that’s only going to happen if the region pushes them for that to happen.”
Gaza tensions rise following UN funding cut to Palestinian refugee program UNRWA, July 30, 2018 (Reuters)