Palestinians chant slogans during a protest against the ongoing electricity crisis in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on January 12, 2017 (Photo: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

UNRWA: U.S. Aid Cut ‘Worst Financial Crisis’ In Agency’s History

Global fundraising campaign likely to start next week

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, says it is facing the “worst financial crisis” in the agency’s 70-year history after the U.S. State Department announced it is withholding millions of dollars in funding.

Christopher Gunness, chief spokesperson for UNRWA, told The Media Line there is concern about the “destabilizing effect” the massive cut in aid may have on the agency, but added UNRWA is not contemplating layoffs right now.

“We are robustly aiming to continue our services for our refugees uninterrupted,” he said, adding that UNRWA is planning to launch a global fundraising campaign next week. “We’re hoping to rapidly increase our [funding] database.”

The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday it is freezing $65 million of the $125 million it planned to contribute to UNRWA this month.

The United States contributed $350 million in aid to UNRWA last year, according to Gunness.

“We were expecting the same again this year,” he said. “We had been reaching out to the U.S. administration. There was no indication that any decision was made” to withhold funding.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed the U.S. would still contribute $60 million in aid to UNRWA this year, but the $65 million in question will “be held for future consideration.”

“One of the things that the United States would like to do is see some revisions made in how UNRWA operates,” Nauert added.

UNRWA operates schools, health care facilities and camps for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

“The U.S. government has consistently commended our high-impact, transparency and accountability,” Gunness told The Media Line. “This was reiterated, once again, during the latest visit to Washington in November 2017, by our Commissioner-General, when every senior US official expressed respect for UNRWA’s role and for the robustness of its management.”

Nauert said the U.S. decision to withhold the $65 million in aid was not done to punish anyone. But critics question the timing. It comes just days after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made critical statements about American President Donald Trump and his administration.

Earlier this month President Trump fired off a series of critical tweets about the Palestinians, writing in one, “we pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect… with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told reporters Tuesday during his trip to India that it is a “good thing” that the U.S. was challenging the organization that, Netanyahu said, “perpetuates the Palestinian narrative and the abolition of Zionism”.

It’s an opinion shared by other Israeli officials, including Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon, who, in a statement to The Media Line wrote, “UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate.”

Israeli Knesset member Sharren Haskel agreed, telling The Media Line that, “finally someone is sending a strict message to UNRWA, saying that if you will continue to promote violence, hatred and instability in Israel, if you continue to hide weapons and tunnels and promote violence and Hamas activity you will not receive any funds.”

Gunness argues that UNRWA is not an agency that promotes violence.

“We protect vulnerable children,” he said, “We promote women’s rights and deal with the sick and elderly.”

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