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US accused of ‘diplomacy of revenge’ and ‘blackmail’ after threatening to cut aid to Palestinian refugees

26th Jan 2018
US accused of ‘diplomacy of revenge’ and ‘blackmail’ after threatening to cut aid to Palestinian refugees

Rafah Prep A Boys School is one of many Palestinians schools in the Occupied Territories that could be affected by US aid cut to the UN Relief and Works Agency
(Photo: ISM Palestine/Creative Commons)

Nadine Osman

Human Rights NGOs have accused the White House of exercising “diplomacy of revenge” and “blackmail” at the expense of millions of Palestinian refugees after the US vowed to cut funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The Trump administration is threatening to sever the Palestinians most vital economic lifeline unless they participate in US-mediated peace talks. The Palestinians previously said they rejected any US role as a mediator in the Middle East in protest over President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Created by UN General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) in 1949, UNRWA’s mission is to protect the dignity and rights of Palestinian refugees, including through the provision of relief and employment services. UNRWA provides support and protection to approximately five million Palestinian refugees.
The move reflects White House resentment over the Palestinians’ decision to put forward resolutions passed before the UN Security Council and General Assembly denouncing Trump for his decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
According to two diplomatic sources, the State Department decided to put on hold more than

$100 million in funding to the UNRWA that was scheduled to be paid on the first working day of January. The Palestinian President’s office said: “Jerusalem is not for sale, neither for gold nor silver.”

Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said if the US “is keen on its interests in the Middle East, it must implement the international resolutions which call for a state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. Without this, the United States will push the region into the abyss.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised Trump’s decision to stop aid to UNRWA describing that as “blackmailing” Palestinians for the food and education of refugee children.

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of HRW, said, “It is vindictive for the US Government to deprive the UN of money to feed and educate Palestinian children in order to blackmail the Palestinian Authority into rejoining Trump administration-led peace negotiations. ”

“If the US Government proceeds with this bullying tactic, other governments should step in to fill the gap so that programs aren’t forced to shut down,” he added.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) which works closely with UNRWA in the Occupied Territories, said cutting aid would punish children in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

NRC Secretary-General, Jan Egeland, said: “Threatening to cut aid for political purposes is what we’ve come to expect of undemocratic regimes, not the world’s biggest humanitarian donor. Cutting funds to UNRWA will achieve nothing except push millions of Palestinians further into poverty and despair, taking food from their tables, the roofs above their heads, and the schools they send their children to.”

He adds, “Other humanitarian organisations simply do not have the capacity to pick up the pieces if this decision goes through. And it would all fall on Israel, as the occupying power, as well as the governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, to do so.”

In Syria, cuts would affect 95 percent of Palestinian refugees there who require access to lifesaving aid. And in Jordan and Lebanon UNRWA is the most important aid provider to Palestinian refugees living in abject poverty.

The US is UNRWA’s largest donor, contributing $364m of funding in 2017, followed by the EU. Together they contribute almost 40 percent of UNRWA’s total funding for its core programme budget.

“Cutting much-needed aid to refugees because Palestinian leaders have positions the US disagrees with is outrageous,” Egeland said. “We call on the US authorities to not follow through with this threat, which would tarnish its reputation and undermine its role as a humanitarian donor.”

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