The United States announced on Tuesday that it is withholding $65m out of its $120m aid contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as hopes for the reignition of peace talks were dealt a heavy blow.
US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert made a statement on Tuesday announcing the decision, in which she insisted, “this is not aimed at punishing anyone.” Instead, the supposed aim of this cut was to spread out the burden of payments more diffusely.
Nauert made it clear that the Trump administration felt that other countries should contribute more significantly to UNRWA. She also stated that it would be part of their policy to ask different countries “to step up to the plate and provide additional money.”
Threats earlier this month from President Donald Trump and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley to cut Palestinian aid, however, seemed to contradict the notion that this was not a punishment. Trump publicly questioned on Twitter why “future massive payments” should be made to the Palestinians if they were “no longer willing to talk peace.” Haley echoed the same sentiment when she stated that Trump would not continue funding the Palestinian situation if the peace process was halted.
A United States official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, was more in accordance with these sentiments. The speaker expressed a need for the UNRWA to be fundamentally re-evaluated “in the way it operates and the way it is funded” and that the “$65m will be held for future consideration.”
Speaking on Wednesday in Cairo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated in no uncertain terms that Palestinians would no longer partake in the peace process that the United States had been seeking to push forward. He declared: “allow me to be clear: we will not accept American leadership of a political process involving negotiations.” This came after a speech on Sunday in which he also stated that the “Oslo Accords are dead.”
The impact of withholding the funds to the UNRWA has been forecast as heavily detrimental. Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said that the move was an attempt to dismantle “the one agency that was established by the international community to protect the rights of Palestinian refugees and provide them with essential services.”
Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres lamented the decision while emphasising the importance of the role of UNRWA, both “for the well-being of these populations” as well as the stability of the region.