The US decision to end its funding for a UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees and their descendants is “an attack on the rights of the Palestinian people”, a spokesman for president Mahmoud Abbas has said.
Nabil Abu Rudeneh said the move “does not serve peace but rather strengthens terrorism in the region”.
He said the Palestinian leadership was considering an appeal to the UN Security Council to confront the American stance, which he said was just the latest hostile act of the Trump administration against the Palestinian people, after it recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy there.
“This decision, which violates all resolutions of international legitimacy, requires the United Nations to take a firm stand against the US decision and to take appropriate decisions,” he said.
“Whatever the size of the conspiracies aimed at liquidating the Palestinian cause, this will only increase the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and its leadership.”
The US supplies nearly 30 percent of the total budget of the UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, and had been demanding it carry out significant reforms to what it called an “irredeemably flawed operation”.
The decision cuts nearly 300 million dollars (£231m) of planned support.
The Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt said: UNRWA is a necessary humanitarian and stabilising force in the region, providing vital services to millions of Palestinian refugees every day. The UK remains a firmly committed supporter of UNRWA, and Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, and we will do everything we can to maintain continuity of essential services at this time.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took to Twitter to criticise the decision, saying it was: “Shameful for the US to end its funding for UNRWA, a vital UN refugee agency. The UK must help to fill the gap by boosting its contributions. Support for Palestinian refugees is a vital commitment until there is a just and viable settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
The US decision comes as president Donald Trump and his Middle East pointmen, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, prepare for the rollout of a much-vaunted but as yet unclear peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians, and it could intensify Palestinian suspicions that Washington is using the humanitarian funding as leverage.
UNRWA was established after Israel’s 1948 War of Independence to singularly aid some 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes.
The number has since grown to an estimated five million refugees and their descendants, who had an aid agency devoted solely to them while the rest of the world’s refugees depend on the general UNHCR refugee agency.
While Palestinian leaders assert the right of those refugees to return to land now under Israeli control, Israel has long argued the agency was politicised and ineffective.
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the agency of perpetuating the conflict by helping promote an unrealistic Palestinian demand that refugees have the “right of return” to long-lost homes in what is now Israel.
He has called for UNRWA to be abolished and its responsibilities taken over by the main UN refugee agency.
Some in Israel have even tougher criticism, accusing UNRWA of teaching hatred ofIsrael in its classrooms and tolerating or assisting Hamas militants in Gaza.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem accused the United States of going after UNRWA to eliminate the Palestinian right to return to their future homes.
“It’s clear that Trump has shifted from taking sides with the Israeli enemy to being a partner in the assault on our Palestinian peoples’ rights,” he said. “All these decisions will not stop our people’s struggle to gain freedom and return.”
Adnan Abu Hasna, the UNRWA spokesman in Gaza, said they currently have 280,000 students in 274 schools and provide food aid to more than one million people.
“Stopping or cutting aid to UNRWA could really affect UNRWA’s operations,” he said. “We don’t think cutting this aid will help stability or pushing the peace process, especially as UNRWA plays a big role in the stability of the region.”
A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ office released a statement late on Friday regretting the Trump administration’s decision to cut funding, saying the UN has appreciated years of US support for the agency.
“UNRWA has a strong record of providing high-quality education, health and other essential services, often in extremely difficult circumstances, to Palestine refugees who are in great need,” the statement added.