U.S. withholds $65 mn from Palestinian aid programs: State Dept

Muriel Hammond
January 19, 2018

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) launched an worldwide fund-raising campaign to compensate for the U.S. decision to deduct tens of millions of dollars in aid to the agency.

But State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed on Tuesday that the USA government had written to UNRWA to inform it that it was withholding $65m out of a total of $120m in funding pledged as a "first tranche" in 2018.

The State Department said it was releasing the rest of the installment - Dollars 60 million - to prevent the agency from running out of cash by the end of the month and closing down.

Nauert said that a "potential second tranche" in 2018 was also being held.

But she declined to say whether the United States has given UNRWA a list of specific changes or reforms it needs to undertake to unlock the rest of the USA funding. "We're not going to reward bad behavior".

Belgium is together with other EU member states and the European Commission by far UNRWA's largest donor.

"We would like other countries, in fact other countries that criticize the United States for what they believe to be our position vis-a-vis the Palestinians.to step forward".

Nauert said other countries should shoulder more of the costs for UNRWA.

"It's money that's being frozen at this time", she said.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl said in a statement on Wednesday that the agency would appeal to other donor nations and launch a "global fundraising campaign" in response to a "dramatic reduction of humanitarian aid". Making these technical changes puts it in line with all other refugee agencies and reduces the number of Palestine refugees from 5.3 million to around 20,000.

In contrast to Trump and Haley, who directly linked aid cuts to political talks, State Department officials have insisted that the decision to reduce funding is about pushing UNRWA to enact management and financial reforms. They're saying they no longer want to have anything to do with us.

In a statement on behalf of the PLO executive committee, Hanan Ashrawi accused the White House of "following Netanyahu's instructions".

"This administration is thereby targeting the most vulnerable segment of the Palestinian people and depriving the refugees of the right to education, health, shelter and a dignified life", the statement continued.

"A big part of the reason we didn't, after a lot of interagency deliberations".

"First of all, UNRWA is not a Palestinian institution, it is a United Nations institution", he said at a United Nations press conference Tuesday.

UNRWA was created almost 70 years ago, after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, to assist more than 700,000 displaced Palestinians. "At stake is the access of refugees to primary healthcare, including prenatal care and other lifesaving services".

- United Nations resolutions, particularly resolution 194, affirm that the basic requirement for Palestinian refugees is to achieve their rights, which the worldwide community has not effected for various reasons, including USA positions.

"We mentioned to UNRWA multiple times it needs to be reformed", Haley told Voice of America host Greta Van Susteren.

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