Israeli officials requested that the United States not cut funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza. Their request came amid concerns that it may push the humanitarian crisis in the Strip over the brink.
In January, President Donald Trump’s administration announced a massive 50% cut to the U.N agency, which received approximately $150 Million from the U.S. annually. The decision was made following a Tweet by President Donald Trump which read: “We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” adding that “With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
American officials requested Israel’s stance on the matter, to determine how much money can be cut from UNRWA’s budget. In response, Israeli security and diplomatic officials stated that while they have no problem with shutting down UNRWA’s activities in Judea and Samaria, as there are plenty of organizations set in place to fill its shoes, they oppose cutting funding to the agency’s Gaza activities, as there are no organizations set to take their place. It may lead to a massive deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the strip.
While the professional stance of the Israeli security and diplomatic apparatuses is against shutting down the agency in Gaza, the official stance of Israel’s government is actually that UNRWA must be dissolved altogether.
In January, following President Trump’s announcement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “UNRWA is an organization which perpetuates the refugee crisis of the Palestinians, as well as perpetuates the narrative of the [Palestinian] ‘right’ of return in order to destroy the State of Israel,” adding that “This is an organization that was established 70 years ago exclusively for Palestinian refugees, while there already exists a UN High Commissioner to deal with the rest of the world’s refugee problems… This absurdity must cease.”
At the time, Netanyahu suggested that the funds meant for Gaza be diverted to other UN agencies working in Gaza, however, this recent report suggests that that is not possible or practical, as UNRWA is not only the only organization in Gaza with the capacity to operate in Gaza, but also the largest employer in Gaza.
Following the American announcement in January, Israel’s Foreign Ministry tried to find a compromise on funding UNRWA, as it too believes closing down the agency’s operations would push Gaza past the point of no return. However, the suggestion that Israel was working behind the scenes to moderate Trump’s threats generated criticism within the prime minister’s Likud Party and within the coalition.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in response to the reports that he “finds it hard to believe that Israel’s Foreign Ministry is opposed to defunding UNRWA,” an organization he said “perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem instead of solving it.” Accusing UNRWA of “supporting terrorism in various ways” Erdan said: “This is the organization the Foreign Ministry is protecting from defunding? I truly hope that is not true.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of Likud’s coalition partner, the Jewish Home party, said “UNRWA is a terror supporting organization. It’s very existence perpetuates the dire state of the people of Gaza, who are being oppressed by the Hamas regime. Support to the people of Gaza should be no different than the support of the people of Syria who are suffering under a terror regime, or from any other group of descendants of refugees anywhere else in the world… I expect all government bodies in Israel, including the Foreign Ministry, to support a decision to defund an organization which employs Hamas terrorists and hides their rockets in its schools.”