Palestinian officials have sharply criticised a US decision to halt funding to the United Nations’ agency assisting Palestine refugees across the Middle East, calling it a “flagrant assault” against Palestinian people.
The comments on Friday came shortly after the US government, a major ally of Israel, announced that it was stopping its funding to the United Nations Relief Works and Agency (UNRWA) after determining the organisation to be an “irredeemably flawed operation”.
In a statement, the US State Department’s spokesperson Heather Nauert said that UNRWA’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years”.
“The administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA,“ Nauert said.
The move came a week after the US announced that it was also cutting more than $200m in economic aid to Palestinians.
“The consecutive American decisions represent a flagrant assault against the Palestinian people and a defiance of UN resolutions,” Palestinian Authority spokesperson Nabil Abu Rdainah told the Reuters news agency on Friday.
“Such a punishment will not succeed to change the fact that the United States no longer has a role in the region and that it is not a part of the solution.”
Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from Washington, DC, said the US decision was “likely to considerably worsen an already dire situation in parts of the Palestinian territories, especially in Gaza”.
“They (the US) are justifying this largely on the grounds that the funding is mismanaged and that the agency itself wastes money and is inefficient,” Reynolds said.
“This is part and parcel, together with the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, of an effort by the Trump administration to really affect some radical changes and try to re-set the table in the Middle East.”
It currently provides services to five million Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Under the Donald Trump administration, the US government had previously slashed its budget to UNRWA operations in the occupied Palestinian territories from $365m to just $65m, resulting in work redundancies and a drop to part-time contracts for many of the agency’s Palestinian employees and full-time staffers.
In late June, the UN had asked member states to fill a critical funding gap caused by the US government’s funding cuts.
“The situation of Palestinians is defined by great anxiety and uncertainty, first because Palestinian refugees do not see a solution to their plight on the horizon,” Pierre Krahenbuhl, UNRWA’s director told a UN conference.
Earlier this week, UNRWA warned that if Washington went through with its funding cut it would likely result in greater instability in the region.
“You have to ask yourself the question: what would the Middle East look like if the most vulnerable people in that region were not to be receiving services from a UN humanitarian organisation,” agency spokesman Chris Gunness told Anadolu Agency.
The US government is also pushing for a reduction in the number of Palestinian refugees, from five million to 500,000, and count only those who were directly displaced from their homes seven decades ago.
Consequently, millions of their descendants will be excluded.