Trump Administration doubles down on Palestinian aid cuts
In a dramatic move, the Trump administration has reportedly decided to end all funding to UNRWA. The UN agency responsible for Palestinian humanitarian assistance. According to reports, the decision to cut all aid to UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees was made at a meeting earlier this month between Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The administration has reportedly informed “key regional governments” of its plan.
The move comes months after the US, which had been the largest donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees cut it’s annual $360 million contribution by more than 80 percent to $60 million earlier this year. UNRWA and the Palestinians have warned that cuts could exacerbate hardship in Gaza which has been under Israeli and Egypt blockades.
On Friday, August 24, 2018, the State Department also announced that the United States will be cutting more than $200 million in aid to the PA. According to the official statement, this aid cut is the result of a review of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority “to ensure these funds are spent in accordance with US national interests and provide value to the US taxpayer”. The funds, which were originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza, would address “high-priority projects elsewhere” said a senior State Department official.
Moreover, according to Hebrew news outlets, the US administration is set to announce its rejection of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The US is expected to announce it’s policy early September which would cancel the right of return for Palestinians through several steps.
The US administration will enforce a new policy recognizing the existence of only half a million Palestinian refugees, who are legitimately considered refugees, out of the total of 5.3 million Palestinian refugees, which were estimated by UNRWA. As such, the administration intends to form a plan in which it rejects the United Nations designation under which millions of descendants of the original refugees are also considered refugees.
The announcement came amidst a deteriorating relationship between the Palestinian leadership and the White House as a result of PA’s boycott of US peace efforts after President Donald Trump unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the embassy there last December.
Weirdly enough, during a speech in West Virginia on August 21, Trump said that Palestinians would “get something very good” in the future peace talks as “it’s their turn”,
Trump also pointed out that Jerusalem has been a stumbling block in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians until he “took it off the table”. “Now Israel will have to pay a higher price” he added.
The decision dealt a serious blow to the NGO sector and is almost certain to have devastating consequences on the Palestinian population living in the West Bank and Gaza where a significant amount of people rely on such projects to earn a living. Back in July The UN agency for Palestinian refugees announced that it will cut more than 250 jobs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a result of US budget cuts.
Palestinian officials criticized the move and slammed it as a form of political coercion and blackmail. However, a Palestinian economic expert said the move will have limited direct impact on the PLO, yet it will have a huge effect on development and aid projects and specifically employees working in that sector.