In a drastic move, the Trump administration reportedly decided to end all funding for UNRWA, the international agency responsible for Palestinian humanitarian assistance.

The decision to cut all aid to the agency was made at a meeting earlier this month between U.S. President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Since then, the administration has informed the “key regional governments” of its plan, according to the report.

A spokesman for the State Department declined to comment on the decision, but did say that ” the policy of the United States with respect to UNRWA has been subject to frequent internal assessments and debates .” 

Established in 1949 in the wake of the 1948 War of Independence, UNRWA operates schools and provides health care and other social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The United States had been providing UNRWA with some $350 million a year, more than any other country, but as part of a series of cuts in foreign aid to the Palestinians, the White House announced in January that it would withhold $65 million in assistance from the aid agency.

Reportedly, earlier this month Kushner has been pushing to eliminate the refugee status of millions of Palestinians as part of an attempt to close the agency. 

Photos taken from UNRWA refugee shelters, school and mosque in Rafah, Gaza
Photos taken from UNRWA refugee shelters, school and mosque in Rafah, Gaza (UNRWA)

The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has in the past called for the dismantling of UNRWA. Last July, for example, he accused the organization of inciting violence against Israel without doing anything to help the plight of the Palestinian refugees. 

He asked why they needed a specific agency, when the United Nations High Commission for Refugees was helping tens of millions of people displaced since the Second World War. “The time has come to dismantle UNRWA and have its parts integrated into the UN High Commission for Refugees,” he said, accusing the body of “perpetuating” the plight of Palestinian refugees.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Tuesday that funding for the agency will only continue if major reforms are implemented.

“Looking at the facts, there are countless refugees still receiving assistance,” Haley said, while insisting that the Trump White House would not restore its previous funding levels unless the agency made drastic changes.

“We will be donors if the UNRWA reforms what it does, as”the Palestinians continue to undermine America” and yet “they reach out to ask for money from UNRWA,”she said.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley 2 (flickr)
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley 2 (flickr CC)

UNRWA grants refugee status to all descendants of Palestinians who left or fled Israel with the establishment of the state in 1948, bringing the number to an estimated five million today.In past peace talks, the Palestinian leadership has always demanded a “right of return” to Israel for these millions, an influx that, if accepted by Israel, would mean the end of Israel as a predominantly Jewish state.

The foreign policy report comes hours after State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the aid money to the Palestinian Authority “does not provide value to the American taxpayer,”. This follows a White House announcement that the US planned to cut more than $200 million to the PA.

“We will be donors if the UNRWA reforms what it does, as”the Palestinians continue to undermine America” and yet “they reach out to ask for money from UNRWA.

The foreign policy report comes hours after State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the aid money to the Palestinian Authority “does not provide value to the American taxpayer,” 

“That money at this time is not…[in] the national interest of the United States and it does not provide value to the American taxpayer at this time either,” Nauert told reporters at the press conference.