Did Netanyahu privately ask Trump not to cut aid to Palestinians?

The fear of a humanitarian disaster is reportedly leading Israel’s prime minister to privately ask the US not to carry through on its threat.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

On Tuesday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley threatened to cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) until the Palestinians return to the negotiating table. Haley was immediately backed up by President Trump, who tweeted, “We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.”

The US is currently UNRWA’s largest donor, giving $368 million to the agency annually.

Publicly, Israel has lauded the possible aid cuts. UNRWA, which subsidizes Palestinian activities in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the Gaza Strip, has been castigated as a “terror-supporting organization” by figures such as Education Minister Naftali Bennet, who offered full-throated support for the possible American move.

Blatant incitement against Israel in UNRWA schools, along with the documented use of its facilities as storage spaces for Hamas rockets and weapons, have made the agency the target of vociferous criticism by Israeli officials over the years.

However, according to a Channel 2 News report Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has privately asked the US president to back down from its threat. Israel’s Foreign Ministry apparently fears that such cuts could lead to a humanitarian disaster in Gaza. UNRWA currently provides the Palestinians education, medical and dental care and social services such as food aid, vocational training, and some reconstruction work.

IDF sources, the report further said, “also think it will hurt, not help.”

Reacting to the Trump threat, Middle East expert and founder of the Israel Resource News Agency David Bedein theorized on his blog Friday that Saudi Arabia – now the third highest donor to UNRWA (Qatar is the second) – may step in to fill the gap if the United States goes through with its threat. This would not necessarily be a positive development, he says, as “the Saudis have quietly become the mainstay of newly radicalized UNRWA education.”

The better option, he continued, is one recently suggested by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely: to make further contributions conditional on a total reform of the organization. This includes overhauling its new curricula, firing employees associated with terror organizations, asking for an honest audit of donor funds, and introducing UNHCR standards to advance the final settlement of Arab refugees after almost 70 years.

A White House official on Thursday referred to US President Donald Trump’s threats to cut aid money to Palestinians if they do not return to negotiations for a political settlement. “He will not tolerate lies about the United States,” the official said. “The president is an expert in getting deals and he is committed to trying to achieve the ultimate peace agreement more than ever, but he will not tolerate spreading lies about America and our positions.”

“He certainly will not waste the taxpayers’ money on subsidizing those who spread these lies,” the official added. “In the meantime, we continue to work on the peace plan that will benefit both sides, both with the Israelis and with the Palestinians, and we will expose it when it is ready and at the right time.”