U.S. ends support for ‘flawed’ U.N. Palestinian refugee agency

The United States is cutting all contributions to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and calling upon the international community to find new ways to help Palestinians.

“The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in an August 31 statement.

“We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially schoolchildren,” she said.

“These children are part of the future of the Middle East. Palestinians, wherever they live, deserve better than an endlessly crisis-driven service-provision model.”

The United States will intensify dialogue with the United Nations, refugee host governments and other stakeholders about new models and approaches, “which may include direct bilateral assistance from the United States and other partners,” Nauert said.

The United States has been by far the most generous donor to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), created in 1949 to help refugees displaced by the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

It contributed $359 million in 2017 that was meant for UNRWA’s work running schools, delivering medical care and providing other services for more than 5 million Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Most of the 5.4 million referred to as refugees are actually descendants of the refugees who fled or lost homes in the 1948 war.

Nauert criticized the U.N. agency’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding” count of who qualifies for refugee status. She said the way it’s been run and financed was “simply unsustainable.”

The United States in January cut its last payment to UNRWA in half to $60 million and served notice it was no longer willing to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden.

Nauert praised Jordan, Egypt, Sweden, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates for stepping up, “but the overall international response has not been sufficient.”

The United States has contributed $6 billion to UNRWA since 1950 and more than $5 billion in direct assistance to the Palestinians since 1994.

President Trump in January ordered a review of whether U.S. assistance for the Palestinians served U.S. national security interests and provided value to American taxpayers.

The State Department notified Congress on August 24 it was cutting more than $200 million in Economic Support Fund assistance.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, speaking to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on August 28, expressed frustration that other countries in the Middle East provide so little funding for UNRWA. “If the region doesn’t invest in those areas, why are we being faulted for not investing in those areas? They have to have skin in the game.” Haley noted that the U.S. has been the largest donor to UNRWA. “We’ll be a partner with you, but only on a partner basis of something you believe in. So you show us you care, and then we’ll come back and decide if we’re going to give.”

Haley also expressed concern that UNRWA funds were being used in part to fund textbooks containing anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda.

The United States has decried Palestinian officials’ practice of making payments to the families of those imprisoned or killed for committing acts of terrorism.

UNRWA operates apart from the U.N. Refugee Agency, formerly known as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which spends nearly $8 billion a year to help 20 million other refugees in 128 countries. The United States contributed $1.45 billion for that work, triple the next highest contribution.