JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the United States announcement that it would halt all funding to the United Nations agency that aids Palestinians a “welcome and important change.”
Netanyahu made the statement on Sunday morning, more than a day after U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that: “The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation.”
“When we made a U.S. contribution of $60 million in January, we made it clear that the United States was no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs that we had assumed for many years,” the statement said.
The statement also noted that the Trump administration takes issue with the agency’s definition of a Palestinian refugee, which gives refugee status also to the millions of descendants of the original Palestinian refugees.
It noted that the U.S. will look for other ways to assist the Palestinians, especially the children who “are part of the future of the Middle East.”
UNRWA provides relief to some 5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It uniquely among refugee agencies identifies multiple generations of descent as refugees; the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees extends such recognition only to the second generation.
Netanyahu said the withheld 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.”
The Palestinian ambassador to Washington Husam Zomlot said in a statement that by cutting aid to the UNRWA the United States is “reneging on its international commitment and responsibility….By endorsing the most extreme Israeli narrative on all issues including the rights of more than 5 million Palestinian refugees, the U.S. administration has lost its status as peacemaker and is damaging not only an already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace in the Middle East.”