Palestinian UN agency ‘weeks away’ from major cuts

UNRWA is facing significant funding cuts following a loss of international support. 

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is “weeks away from painful cuts” to its assistance to Gaza as well as to Palestinians elsewhere because of an unprecedented gap in its budget of more than $250 million, the UN Mideast envoy said Tuesday.

Nikolay Mladenov told the Security Council (UNSC) that in Gaza, “this would include a deferral of salaries to some of its workforce in July and the start of suspending core operations in August.”

The Trump administration announced in January it was withholding $65 million of a planned $125 million funding installment for the UNRWA, demanding that it undertake fundamental reforms. It released $60 million to prevent UNRWA from shutting down while making it clear that additional US donations would be contingent on major reforms at the agency.

The US is UNWRA’s largest donor, supplying nearly 30 percent of its budget.

Agency spokesman Christopher Gunness said the actual cut was around $300 million because the US had led the agency to believe it would provide $365 million in 2018. He said UNRWA went into 2018 with a $146 million shortfall that ballooned to $446 million without the anticipated US funds.

A dozen countries announced pledges of nearly $100 million in new funding for UNRWA at an emergency donor conference in Rome in March.

Facing the worst funding crisis in its 68-year history, UNRWA still has “an unprecedented shortfall of over $250 million,” Mladenov said.

He announced that another pledging conference will be held Monday at UN headquarters in New York.

In a report to the Security Council obtained Monday by The Associated Press, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza is compounded by the potential suspension of UN programs, which are “a lifeline for Palestinians,” as a result of UNRWA’s precarious financial situation.

Guterres warned that if the $250 million shortfall isn’t urgently met, UNRWA’s services face disruption.

“The additional instability caused by such a development, in a region already wracked by conflict, can, and must, be prevented if all act now to address this gap,” the secretary-general said.

Palestinian ‘refugees’: Unique status and legacy

The Palestinians have a unique definition for their status as “refugees” that has permitted them to inflate their number significantly. Specifically, refugee status for Palestinians is passed on to succeeding generations and is unaffected by citizenship from other countries, in contrast to the definition of refugee status for every other refugee population in the world.

Therefore, the vast majority of “refugees” in Jordan, more than two million, are citizens of the country who identify as Palestinian.

Israel has argued for years that the UN and the Palestinians are perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem and oppose any attempt to seek a solution.

Furthermore, the Palestinians’ status as refugees ensures an endless flow of international aid along with other financial ramifications.

A so-called Palestinian refugee receives quadruple the amount of aid that a Syrian, Iraqi or African refugee receives from the UN.

A study released in September shows that in 2016 UNRWA, which provides assistance solely to Palestinians, spent an average of $246 for each of the 5.3 million Palestinians it defines as refugees, while the UNHCR spent only a quarter of that amount – $58 per refugee – on non-Palestinians.