UNRWA chief blasts 'political' American cut

Head of UN agency for "Palestinian refugees" says U.S. cut was linked to PA decision to freeze ties with Trump.

Elad Benari ,

Pierre Krahenbuhl
Pierre Krahenbuhl

Pierre Krahenbuhl, the head of the UN agency for “Palestinian refugees”, UNRWA, criticized on Tuesday the "political dimension" of a U.S. decision to dramatically slash funding to the organization, warning this could lead to rising instability.

The American decision to reduce funding for UNRWA this year by $300 million "has a political dimension that I think should be avoided", he warned, according to AFP.

Krahenbuhl's comments came as he issued an emergency appeal for more than $800 million in funds to provide additional assistance to “Palestinian refugees”.

The United States, which for years has by far been UNRWA's largest donor, announced this month it will be contributing just $60 million to the organization's 2018 budget, down from $360 million last year.

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.

"It is very clear the decision by U.S. was not related to our performance," Krahenbuhl said Tuesday, pointing out that he had a "positive" meeting with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner last November and had been left with the impression Washington would maintain its funding levels.

Krahenbuhl said the cuts were clearly linked to the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership's decision this month to freeze ties with Trump's administration after its controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, adding that Washington could no longer be the main mediator in talks with Israel.

Krahenbuhl stressed the "imperative to preserve and ensure that humanitarian funding is preserved from politicization".

"The whole point of supporting communities in very difficult conflict environments is that one doesn't have to agree with anyone's leadership. One is concerned with the well-being ... of communities," he said, adding that UNRWA provides essential services to some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, PA-assigned areas of Judea and Samaria and Gaza, including running 700 schools and 140 health clinics.

"It is not the first time in our long and proud history that we face challenges of this nature, but it is in financial terms the most serious financial crisis ever in the history of this agency," he added.

Cuts to these and other services for populations often already in dire need and lacking any possibilities to move or to improve their situations could be a recipe for disaster, warned Krahenbuhl.

"There is no doubt that if no solution is found to the shortfall... then there will be increased instability," Krahenbuhl said, adding, “Cutting and reducing funding to UNRWA is not good for regional stability."

Following the US move, UNRWA last week launched a global fundraising campaign, titled "Dignity is Priceless", to help fill the gaps.

Krahenbuhl said other donor countries were rushing to provide their donations early to ensure services could continue while the organization works to bring in more cash.

Denmark, Finland, Germany Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland had already provided their annual donations in full, while Belgium, Kuwait, Netherlands and Ireland had vowed to do so "very soon", he said.

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.