UNRWA head: U.S. cut was for diplomatic reasons

UNRWA's Pierre Krahenbuhl argues the U.S. decision to freeze aid for it was not because of the agency's performance.

Arutz Sheva North America Staff ,

Pierre Krahenbuhl
Pierre Krahenbuhl

The head of the United Nations agency for “Palestinian refugees” argued on Friday that the U.S. decision to freeze tens of millions of dollars in aid resulted from diplomatic disputes rather than the agency's performance.

The State Department this week put on hold two planned payments of more than $100 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The State Department explained the freeze was not meant at punishing the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership, which has cut ties with President Donald Trump's administration following his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, with a spokeswoman saying it was linked to necessary "reform" of UNRWA.

Pierre Krahenbuhl, the agency's commissioner general, said Friday they had not been informed by the United States of any new reform demands and were "caught up" in the political dispute.

"I have to look at this as not related to our performance but a decision and a debate that was caught up in the aftermath of what of course was the General Assembly resolution on Jerusalem and other matters," Krahenbuhl told AFP in an interview in Jerusalem.

"My perception is there is a debate in the U.S. administration about funding to the Palestinians and our funding got caught up in that," he added.

On Tuesday, after the Trump administration suspended $65 million to UNRWA, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the money was being held but could be released "in the future, if reforms are met, if UNRWA agrees to undertake reforms, if other countries agreed to pitch in and provide money".

Krahenbuhl told AFP the agency had received no communication from the United States about further necessary reforms in recent days.

He added that during a recent visit to the U.S. he had been informed the administration was satisfied with UNRWA's performance.

"What is new is a decision by the United States to dramatically reduce its contribution and that was not -- in the communications to me – associated with reform elements."

"We were simply informed that the contribution to our core budget would be this year $60 million when the United States contributed in total to UNRWA last year $360 million. For the moment there has been no further communication," said Krahenbul, who had warned this week that the move “threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavors in the Middle East.”

He said Friday they were searching for new sources of support, but that hundreds of thousands of students relied on the agency.

In 2015 UNRWA schools nearly did not open on time because of funding shortages.

"What is at stake is the access of 525,000 boys and girls to their education," Krahenbuhl warned.

The American cut came following recent tweets by President Donald Trump in which he questioned the wisdom of providing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority given their refusal to resume peace talks with Israel.

For years, UNRWA has been a target for criticism in light of Hamas's activity in its educational institutions and the use of its facilities by Palestinian Arab terrorist organizations in Gaza.

UNRWA was documented storing Hamas rockets and weapons "designed to kill Israeli citizens" in its schools, a fact which the UNRWA chief admitted himself.

In addition, the organization has actively taken part in inciting anti-Semitic violence.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)