The Trump administration is weighing a hefty cut to U.S. aid to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, possibly slashing the first installment of 2018 by more than half.
President Donald Trump hasn’t yet signed off on a final amount, but he is leaning toward sending just $60 million of the planned $125 million to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), reports the Associated Press, citing U.S. officials. The White House is also considering attaching conditions to future U.S. contributions, such as requiring Palestinians to revive negotiations with Israel before receiving more money.
The Department of State said over the weekend that funding levels are still “under review.” A decision on the matter could come as early as Tuesday, according to the AP.
Trump had previously threatened to withhold U.S. funds to Palestinians in order to force them to restart moribund peace talks. Earlier this month, he publicly questioned the wisdom of sending more money to Palestinians, who he said “don’t even want to negotiate” a peace settlement in the wake of his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more,” the president tweeted. “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has also taken a hard line on funding, suggesting the U.S. would reduce its contributions to both the Palestinian Authority and the UNRWA, which administers humanitarian services to Palestinian refugees. (RELATED: FACT CHECK: Did Nikki Haley Threaten To Cut Off Aid To Palestinian Refugees?)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis are reportedly backing the plan to withhold some money, having offered it as an alternative to more drastic cuts favored by Haley, reports the AP. The secretaries have argued that cutting all assistance to UNRWA could exacerbate instability in the Middle East, particularly within strategic partners like Jordan.
Washington is currently the largest contributor to UNRWA by a wide margin, providing $368 million of the agency’s $1.2 billion budget in 2016. The U.S. was set to contribute a similar amount this year, but the State Department put the payments under review following Trump and Haley’s criticism.
Palestinian refugees are given aid through UNRWA, which is a separate organization from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. UNRWA uses a much broader definition of refugee than the U.N. high commissioner, applying refugee status to “a person whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict,” and also to such a person’s descendants.
Since UNRWA does not cap the number of generations eligible for designation as refugees, the original Palestinian refugees can pass on that status to their descendants indefinitely.
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