The United States has confirmed it is withholding 65 million dollars in Palestinian aid, demanding that the UN agency responsible for the programmes undertake a “fundamental re-examination.”
In a letter, the State Department notified the U.N. Relief and Works Agency that the U.S. is withholding $65 million of a planned $125 million funding instalment to the body. The letter also makes clear that additional U.S. donations will be contingent on major changes by UNRWA, which has been heavily criticised by Israel.
“We would like to see some reforms be made,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, adding that changes are needed both to the way the agency operates and is funded. “This is not aimed at punishing anyone.”
The State Department said it was releasing the rest of the instalment — $60 million — to prevent the agency from running out of cash by the end of the month and closing down.
The U.S. is UNWRA’s largest donor, supplying nearly 30 percent of its budget.
Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon, praised the move, arguing that UNRWA misuses humanitarian aid to support propaganda against the Jewish state and perpetuate the Palestinians’ plight.
“It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed towards their intended purpose: the welfare of refugees,” Danon said in a statement.
The U.S. donated $355 million to UNWRA in 2016 and was set to make a similar contribution in this year; the first instalment was to have been sent this month. But after a highly critical Jan. 2 tweet from Trump on aid to the Palestinians, the State Department opted to wait for a formal policy decision before sending its first instalment.
Trump’s tweet expressed frustration over the lack of progress in his attempts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and he pointed the finger at the Palestinians. “We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” he said. “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”