The head of the Palestinian mission to Washington slammed the US Trump administration Wednesday over its decision to withhold $65 million to Palestinian aid agencies, saying that making basic humanitarian services such as food, medical supplies and education accessible to Palestinians is not a bargaining chip, but an American and international obligation.
Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief Works and Agency, said on Saturday Friday’s move would affect “millions of people” including “some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised on this planet”.
For nearly 70 years, UNRWA has provided lifesaving assistance to more than five million Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories, as well as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
But over the past year, the US government has made it increasingly clear it considers the work the organisation does, and who it considers as refugees, to be an obstacle in the protracted Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
It was later reported that the Trump administration had withheld about $305m in funding, and only delivered $60m to UNRWA.
UNRWA said it spent the next eight months scrambling for financial assistance, and was only able to continue operating after large contributions were raised by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which donated $150m between them.
The US decision to stop all funding to the UN agency, which it called an “irredeemably flawed operation”, was quickly criticised by the Palestinian leadership.
A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also pushed back against claims that the agency was inefficient.
“UNRWA has a strong record of providing high-quality education, health and other essential services, often in extremely difficult circumstances,” a statement by Stephane Dujarric read.
“The secretary-general calls on other countries to help fill the remaining financial gap, so that UNRWA can continue to provide this vital assistance, as well as a sense of hope this vulnerable population.”
What is UNRWA?
Originally established as a temporary solution, UNRWA was set up after the creation of Israel in 1948 to assist the more than 700,000 Palestinians who were forcibly expelledfrom their towns and villages.
Since then, it has helped four generations of Palestinians with basic needs, including housing, healthcare, education and social services.