By RICK GLADSTONE
The leaders of 21 global aid organizations asked the Trump administration on Wednesday to restore withheld funds to the United Nations agency that helps Palestinians, calling the funding cut a “dangerous and striking departure” from a history of American generosity.
In a letter to top administration officials, the groups’ leaders expressed concern that the White House’s decision to withhold more than half of the planned contribution to the agency, if maintained, would disrupt Palestinian access to food, health care, education “and other critical support to vulnerable populations.”
The administration announced last week that it was withholding $65 million from a scheduled payment of $125 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which aids more than five million Palestinians in refugee camps across the Middle East.
The announcement came after Palestinian leaders had accused the administration of blatantly siding with Israel in the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict and dimming prospects for a Palestinian state that would exist side by side with Israel.
Administration officials said that restoration of the aid depended partly on the Palestinian aid agency’s making unspecified reforms, and that withholding the funds had not been punitive.
Many Palestinians and their supporters disputed that assertion. They pointed to statements by administration officials, including a Jan. 2 Twitter message by President Trump, who complained that “we pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.”
United Nations officials said the administration’s move had created the worst financial crisis in the Palestinian aid agency’s seven-decade history.
In their letter, the leaders of the aid groups said: “We are particularly alarmed that this decision impacting humanitarian aid to civilians is not based on any assessment of need, but rather designed both to punish Palestinian political leaders and to force political concessions from them.
“This is simply unacceptable as a rationale for denying civilians humanitarian assistance, and a dangerous and striking departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance,” the letter stated.
It was signed by top executives of prominent nongovernmental relief and advocacy organizations, including Save the Children, Oxfam America, CARE USA, Refugees International and the International Rescue Committee.
The letter was sent to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, and Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.
Eric P. Schwartz, the president of Refugees International, said in a telephone interview that the letter was the outcome of what he described as “the deep reaction by the N.G.O. community to a very bad decision.”
Mr. Schwartz, a former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration under the Obama administration, said the Palestinian aid decision had broken with decades of American policy.
He pointed to President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 assertion that “a hungry child knows no politics” in deciding to help famine victims in Ethiopia.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known by the acronym Unrwa, was created in 1949 to aid Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.
Originally meant to be a temporary support for roughly one million Palestinian refugees until a political solution was reached, the agency evolved into a sprawling organization for them and their descendants, who are also classified as refugees.
Functioning almost like a government in some places, the agency is widely regarded as a critical lifeline for many Palestinians. But it also has been accused of perpetuating what critics call a culture of dependency among a population that has quintupled in size.
Many Israelis regard the agency as politically biased and inherently hostile to Israel, an assertion United Nations officials deny.
Mr. Schwartz defended the agency. “Given the pressures and challenges confronting Unrwa, a fair assessment of their work would conclude they are providing valuable services under extremely difficult conditions,” he said.
Published on The NY Times on January 24, 2018
The European Union (EU) has signed an important additional contribution of EUR 9.5 million to the 2017 Programme Budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in response to a call to donors to help close a shortfall that could impact its key services such as education and health-care.
The announcement was made during a meeting on 20 September between UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl and EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. This contribution comes in addition to the disbursement earlier this year of EUR 82 million to the UNRWA Programme Budget.
The new contribution will help preserve access to education for 500,000 children, provide primary health care for more than 3.5 million patients and assistance to over 250,000 acutely vulnerable Palestine refugees.
The UNRWA Commissioner-General expressed his deep appreciation for the EU's trust and support: “I am very grateful for the European Union’s partnership with UNRWA and commitment towards Palestine refugees at this critical time. This generous additional contribution is highly valued and will make a big difference.”
The EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn said: “This substantial additional contribution once again reaffirms the European Union's longstanding commitment to UNRWA and the continuity of its essential work in service of Palestine refugees. The EU calls on other donors for greater solidarity and burden-sharing to ensure that UNRWA receives adequate resources to protect and maintain its core functions. Adequate and predictable funding requires a joint effort. We expect all to engage in this way to enable the Agency to continue its tasks without disruption and deliver on its efficiency reform plans.”
In June of this year, the EU and UNRWA signed the 2017-2020 Joint Declaration, strengthening the political nature of the EU-UNRWA partnership and reaffirming the European Union’s commitment to promoting the rights of Palestine refugees and supporting the long-term financial stability of the Agency in a context of intensified budgetary constraints and operational challenges.
Published on the UNRWA on October 10, 2017