US President Joe Biden had promised during his campaign for the presidency that he would resume such funding, but has yet to make good on his pledge.

Palestinian employees of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) take part in a protest against job cuts by UNRWA, in Gaza City September 19, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Palestinian employees of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) take part in a protest against job cuts by UNRWA, in Gaza City September 19, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)


Israel warned the Biden administration that its decision Wednesday to restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA ) would only help perpetuate the conflict.

“Israel’s position is that the organization in its current form perpetuates the conflict and does not contribute to its resolution. The renewal of UNRWA assistance, therefore, must be accompanied by substantial and necessary changes in the nature, goals and conduct of the organization,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It added that US President Joe Biden’s decision to reverse his predecessor Donald Trump’s 2018 policy decision to halt funding to UNRWA had been come up in conversation between Israeli and American officials.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said he had also warned the State Department of the danger of such activity, particularly without ensuring that “incitement” and “antisemitic content” are removed from its educational curriculum.

“Israel is strongly opposed to the anti-Israel and antisemitic activity happening in UNRWA’s facilities,” Erdan said.

“We believe that this U.N. agency for so-called “refugees” should not exist in its current format. UNRWA schools regularly use materials that incite against Israel and the twisted definition used by the agency to determine who is a “refugee” only perpetuates the conflict.

The Trump administration had agreed with Israel’s assessment of UNRWA, stopping $350 million in annual contribution and at least $200 million in additional assistances.

Biden on Wednesday restored close to half of that funding, including for security assistance.

“The United States is pleased to announce that, working with Congress, we plan to restart U.S. economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement he issued.

“This includes $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million for peace-building programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $150 million in humanitarian assistance for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA),” Blinken said. The $235 million is in addition to $15 million the US pledged for the Palestinians in March.

“All assistance will be provided consistent with U.S. law,” he said adding that it would go to humanitarian assistance such as battling the COVID-19 pandemic and basic needs such as food and water.

Blinken specially mentioned support for UNRWA’s education program, and pledged his country’s support for a two-state resolution to the conflict.

“The US is committed to advancing prosperity, security, and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians in tangible ways in the immediate term, which is important in its own right, but also as a means to advance towards a negotiated two-state solution,” Blinken said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York he hoped the US restoration of funding would sway other countries to do likewise.

“There were a number of countries that had greatly reduced or halted contributions to UNRWA. We hope that the American decision will lead others to rejoin… as UNRWA donors,” Dujarric said.

Among the Trump administration and Israeli objections to UNRWA, is its classification of descendants of some 750,000 Palestinians who fled their homes as a result of the 1948 War of Independence, and who now live in east Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, as refugees.

UNRWA, which provides food assistance as well as health and education services, has sought a $1.5 billion budget to serve 5.7 million refugees. UNRWA opponents are concerned that an ever-expanding refugee definition creates a stumbling block to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The right of return for refugees to sovereign Israel is one of the core topics that would be part of negotiations for a two-state resolution to the conflict.

At the UN on Wednesday, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini took issue with these allegations, stating that it was important to defend the organization’s mandate as well as the rights of Palestinian refugees.

There are, he said, “growing defamatory campaigns” against UNRWA.
“These nasty and incessant campaigns aim at harming UNRWA’s reputation, weakening its mandate and erasing the Palestinian refugee issue” and trying to strip “UNRWA from its funding base,” Lazzarini added.

“This campaign often uses misinformation to shock our donors and supporters to drive [UNRWA] into a highly politicized” arena that deflects focus away from people in need, Lazzarini contended.

“Most recently UNRWA has been under attack for allegedly promoting hate in the education material it produced during the pandemic,” he said.

“UNRWA strongly rejects these allegations. The agency has a zero tolerance policy for incitement to violence and discrimination.
“UNRWA is committed to upholding the highest level of neutrality and human rights and tolerance,” Lazzarini said.

UNRWA is facing economic hardship, Lazzarini said, with its donor contributions falling to its 2013 level at a time when needs are rising due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The year “2020 has been an extremely challenging year for Palestinian refugees,” Lazzarini said, adding that he was not able to fully pay his staff.

Unemployment and poverty was already high prior to the pandemic, but now he said, he was “extremely alarmed” by the level of challenges facing Palestinian refugees.

“People are struggling daily to ensure one meal to their families, no one should feel so desperate,” he said.

“2021 will continue to be a challenging year,” Lazzarini said, but added he was hopeful that US funding would help alleviate some of that strain.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post