Israel Agrees as US Halts Funding for ‘Irredeemably Flawed’ Palestinian Refugee UN Group

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Yad Binyamin. Photo credit: Avi Ohayon (GPO)

Citing a failed model of operations and the failure of other nations to do their financial part, the United States on Friday announced they were cutting off all funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). US spokesperson Heather Nauert said UNRWA’s considering future generations of Palestinians eligible “refugees” from the 1948 and 1967 wars, instead of just the people who actually fled those wars more than half a century ago, played a role in the US decision to start looking for other ways to financially aid the Palestinians besides UNRWA.

“Beyond the budget gap itself and failure to mobilize adequate and appropriate burden sharing, the fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years—tied to UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries—is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years,” said Nauert in a press release from the State Department.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heartily agreed with the US decision, contrasting Israel’s handling of Jewish refugees who were absorbed into their country with the UNRWA situation. “They created a unique institution, 70 years ago, not to absorb the refugees but to perpetuate them,” said Netanyahu on Sunday in comments released by his office. “Therefore the US has done a very important thing by halting the financing for the refugee perpetuation agency known as UNRWA. It is finally beginning to resolve the problem. The funds must be taken and used to genuinely help rehabilitate the refugees, the true number of which is much smaller than the number reported by UNRWA.”

Significant numbers of Palestinians who fled the Israel-Arab wars in the 20th Century were not made citizens of the Arab countries to which they fled. Instead, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remain in “refugee camps” in countries such as Syria and Lebanon. There are even Palestinian “refugee” communities still in Israel, despite the existence of Palestinian cities within driving distance.

Due to future generations who were born to the original persons who fled the conflicts also being counted as refugees by the UN, there are millions of Palestinian “refugees” that the Palestinians claim have a “right of return” not to territory in a future Palestinian state in a peace deal, but to Israel. This has been a key sticking point in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, speaking from the Yad Binyamin community that absorbed Israelis who were forced out of their homes in the Gaza withdrawal in 2006, used that as just one example on the appropriate way to handle refugees.

“Haven’t uprooted people come to us from all kinds of countries? Holocaust survivors who were torn from their land? From communities that they had lived in, in Lithuania—for 500 years, from Poland—for 1,000 years. They were uprooted, survived and came here. Did we leave them as refugees? No, we absorbed them, from Arab countries as well. They were uprooted, from the same war [as the original Palestinian refugees], the war of liberation [in 1948],” said Netanyahu.

“Hundreds of thousands of Jews who came here as refugees without anything; they left all their property behind. We did not leave them as refugees; we turned them into equal citizens, who contribute, in our state. This is not what is happening with the Palestinians.”

The US wants a healthier approach to refugee status for the Palestinians than UNRWA aid as well. “We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business,” said Nauert. “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. They deserve to be able to plan for the future.”

Nauert said the US contributed $60 million to the agency earlier this year, but an insufficient number of countries stepped up their financial support in response to the US saying in January they would no longer “shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden.” Nauert said last week that the US would no longer support UNRWA’s “irredeemably flawed operation.”

However, the US may continue financial aid to the Palestinians covered by UNRWA, albeit in a different model. It may even again involve the UN.

Said Nauert, “The United States will intensify dialogue with the United Nations, host governments, and international stakeholders about new models and new approaches, which may include direct bilateral assistance from the United States and other partners, that can provide today’s Palestinian children with a more durable and dependable path towards a brighter tomorrow.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, September 2, 2018)

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