On Tuesday, January 23rd, the United States asserted that it will provide $60 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This is a major cut from the promised $125 million that the U.S. was to give to the UNRWA. Officials worry about how this cut will create instability and chaos in the region.
Following Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last December, Palestinian officials announced they would pull out of peace talks with the United States, which led the current U.S. president to release a tweet threatening to cut funding off for aid to Palestine if they kept disrespecting the “hundreds of millions of dollars” the United States was already giving them by not participating in peace talks. Heather Nauert, the spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, claims the decision to cut UNRWA has nothing to do with taking a side or punishing Palestinians for pulling out of peace talks. She claims the freeze in funding has more to do with a push for the UNRWA to be run more efficiently, pressing other countries to contribute to the UNRWA’s budget. However, many people criticize and doubt this assertion given Donald Trump’s earlier actions.
The UNRWA for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East has been providing important funding for 70 years. They work as a vital component for refugees living in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The UNRWA provides Palestinian refugees with access to education, healthcare and other crucial services. The U.S. has always been the biggest funder of the UNRWA, and the cut is a huge blow to services provided for the Palestinian refugees, which has created anger and mistrust both in Palestine and the international community.
The freeze in promised funds by the United States of America to the UNRWA has sparked concern from international leaders. Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, as well as Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, fear that the U.S. financial decision will further fuel instability in the region. By not cutting funding from the UNRWA, the United States is decreasing essentially needed services from the Palestinian refugees’ lives. Officials, like Guterres, fear this will cause disruption and can cause an overall discontent among the Palestinian people. Acting U.K. Deputy Minister to the United Nations, Stephen Hickey, expressed his concern at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council members that cutting funding from the UNRWA will further delay peace talks by underfunding an organization that provides “vital services” to the Palestinian refugees. Other European and Arab countries have followed suit, urging the U.S. to rethink their position for continuing peace.
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