The Donald Trump administration has decided to cut more than $200 million dollars in aid that it gives to the more than five million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria via the United Nations Agency for Palestinian refugees, the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees).
A senior state department official said on Friday, 24th August 2018, that the State Department had received orders from the US President Donald Trump, to redirect funds from programmes in the West Bank and Gaza to unspecified “high-priority projects elsewhere.”
The official went on to say that the decision “takes into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation.”
The United States was providing the UNRWA with close to $350 million in funding per year, more than what the agency receives from any other country, amounting to more than 25% of UNRWA’s $1.2 billion annual budget.
In January this year, the US had decided to reduce the amount of money it was giving to the UNRWA by more than 80 per cent, bringing it down to a mere $65 million out of a planned $125 million funding instalment that month. Earlier, the United States had demarcated $251 million to give to the Palestinians for good governance, health, education and civil society funding.
Palestinians condemned the US decision to revoke the funding to the UNRWA in the strongest terms. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) saying that it was “the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool” and that “the Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion.”
Hanan Ashrawi, PLO executive committee member said in a statement that “the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale.” She also admonished the US administration for trying to politically and economically harass and intimidate a people under occupation and accused the US of being in cohorts with the State of Israel in its theft of Palestinian land and resources.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the United States government have been on a collision course for several months now since the US moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Palestinian leadership responded by deciding to boycott US efforts to negotiate a peace deal between Israel and the PA, also declaring that it now considers the US “unfit” to play a meaningful mediation role in the Middle East Peace Process.
In recent months, more than 170 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the Gaza strip during the Great March of Return protests that started in March. The protesters have been demanding the right of return for Palestinians who were forcibly expelled from their homes and lands in 1948 during the establishment of the state of Israel.
The decision is also being seen by many as the US applying financial pressure on the Palestinians to force them to accept the US imposed peace deal with Israel which is likely to be heavily in favour of Israel. Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, and US special envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt have been given the responsibility to come up with a plan to achieve Middle East peace. Trump had also last week said that there would be something “very good” for the Palestinians.