US cuts aid to UN refugee agency for Palestinians after Trump tweet

US cuts aid to UN refugee agency for Palestinians after Trump tweet

WASHINGTON: US cuts aid to UN refugee agency for Palestinians after Trump tweet

The US State Department on Tuesday said it was withholding more than half of the planned funding for UN agency that looks after Palestinians, but dismissed suggestions that it was being done to punish Palestine which had forced a UN vote on the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters at a regular briefing that of the planned funding of $125 million, the administration will release $60 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a move that could prove disastrous for millions of Palestinians.

The cut in US aid comes weeks after President Trump in a tweet expressed his frustration over the US aid to Palestinians, saying that in return of hundreds of millions of dollars, the US had gotten no appreciation or respect. He also criticized Palestinian officials who have said they were no longer interested in peace negotiation following Trump's announcement to move US embassy to Jerusalem.

At the briefing, the State Department spokesperson faced a volley of questions over the aid cut and whether it was being done to punish Palestine which forced a UN vote last month in which member states overwhelmingly rejected the US decision in spite of Trump's warning that the US would cut off financial aid for countries which voted in favor.

Nauert said that the second tranche of $65 million was being withheld for future consideration and the unspecified reforms that the US wanted in how UNRWA operates. "And one of the things this administration would like to do,,,,, is to take a look at UNRWA, trying to make sure that the money is best spent and best spent so that people can get the services, whether it's school or the health care services, that they need."

However, when forced to clarify the reason if it was not a political move to punish Palestinians for bringing the UN resolution to vote, the spokesperson denied any linkages but came up with another reason that was not related to the so-called reforms the US wanted.

"This is not aimed at punishing anyone. The United States Government and the Trump administration believe that there should be more so-called burden sharing to go around," the spokesperson said, but her response did give a hint that the move was in a way linked to the UN vote. "We would like other countries“ in fact, other countries that criticize the United States for what they believe to be our position vis-a-vis the Palestinians, other countries that have criticized us “ to step forward and actually help with UNRWA, to do more."

She added that the US would be asking the nations around the world, including Arab nations and others, to kick in money. "Some of those countries do not provide any of the money at this time. So those countries, we would ask for them to pay into it as well."

UNRWA has been working for about 70 years and has been supporting more than five million Palestinian refugees registered with the agency in the occupied territories as well as those living in Lebanon, Jordon and Syria. The aid-cut is feared to prove catastrophic for these refugees.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl in a statement said that the cut in US aid "threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavors in the Middle East."