Palestinian UN agency scours EU for funding after US pull out

The US slashed UNRWA funding in response to Palestinian anti-US positions, and the UN agency has so far failed to replace the funds.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A global conference asking donor countries to increase their aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is to take place in Rome on Thursday, co-hosted by Sweden, Egypt and Jordan. The Palestinian aid agency is facing an immediate crisis as the United States drastically decreased its funding from $360 million to $60 million this year, which is nearly 40% of the total UNRWA budget.

The Trump administration downsized its contribution due to its belief that there should be more equitable sharing of the aid burden with other countries, and that the organization needs to enact reforms. The president has also been angered by the rejection of the Palestinian Authority (PA) of his administration’s efforts in the peace process, saying in January in Davos that the US would only continue sending aid money if the Palestinians returned to the negotiating table.

The issue of UNRWA reform has been high on the wish list of Israeli officials for years, as they point to incitement against the Jewish state’s existence in UNRWA-run schools, and the blind eye turned to Hamas agents storing missiles in UNRWA buildings, to name just two common complaints.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will be attending the Rome meeting as well. In encouraging donors to “step up urgently,” his spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said on Tuesday that $30 million was being released from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) “to urgently support Palestine refugees through UNRWA.” He added that “an exceptional grant of $15 million will enable UNRWA to avoid disruption of life-saving food assistance” to the “vulnerable refugees” in the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria as well.

So far, other countries have mostly paid lip service to the need for increased funding.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt hosted a meeting at the White House that brought together UN and Israeli representatives with officials of Arab countries – including some which have no diplomatic relations with Israel – to discuss how to specifically improve the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. That meeting was boycotted by the Palestinian Authority.