While the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) faces a serious financial crisis, President Mahmoud Abbas insists the PA will continue to pay salaries to convicted terrorists and their families, “Even if we need to cut from our flesh”.
UNRWA is currently facing a financial crisis which places its educational programs, serving 320,000 children, in doubt. UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl announced last week that the schools will open on time but the problem is not solved.
The crisis comes largely as a result of U.S. withholding funds. Until 2017, the UNRWA, established in 1949 to aid Palestinian refugees from Israel, received over $200 million of its more than $1 billion operating budget from the U.S.. In 2017, the Trump administration cut around one-third of its contributions for 2018. In January 2018, the United States withheld $65 million, roughly half the amount due in the month, again creating a financial crisis for UNRWA. This came over U.S. disapproval of UNRWA policies including expanding the definition of ‘refugee’ as it pertains to Palestinians to include all patrilineal descendants of any Arab that had lived in Israel for at least two years prior to being displaced by Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. As per this definition there are currently over five million Palestinian refugees. As per the standard definition of a refugee, someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, there are currently less than 20,000 Palestinian refugees. The U.S. has pledged to fund the programs for the Palestinians under UNHCR, the branch of the UN that normally aids refugees.
Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), a media watchdog that monitors Arabic sites, noted that this shortfall could easily be covered by the $340 million the PA pays to terrorist prisoners, released terrorist prisoners, the families of deceased terrorists and the wounded. This represents more than one-third of the entire the entire budget of the PA’s Ministry of Education. The entire shortfall of the UNRWA educational programs is $220 million.
The PA dedication to funding terrorism was underscored last week when PA President Mahmoud Abbas said on PA television, ““Israel considers them (i.e., terrorist prisoners) criminals… Even if we need to cut from our flesh, we will continue to give the support and aid.”