US seeks to end Palestinian ‘refugee’ status, redirect UN aid

Jared Kushner, the US president’s senior adviser, and Republican lawmakers are discussing ways to end the Palestinians’ special refugee status and redirect UN aid.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The US executive and legislative branches are considering ways to put an end to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which supports millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants in the Middle East, according to a Friday report in Foreign Policy.

In internal emails from January obtained by the global magazine, Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, writes, ” “It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA…. This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”

The report notes that Kushner discussed the refugee issue with Jordanian officials when he and Trump’s special negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, passed through the region in June to discuss their as-yet-unrevealed peace plan in various capitals. According to Palestinian officials, Kushner lobbied for Jordan to remove the refugee status of over two million registered Palestinians.

“[Kushner said] the resettlement has to take place in the host countries and these governments can do the job that UNRWA was doing,” the report quoted Hanan Ashrawi of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization as explaining. She called the the US initiative “a really irresponsible, dangerous decision.”

The US team suggested that the amount withheld from UNRWA could be contributed instead to other agencies that would supply humanitarian aid to Arabs in these countries.

This dire threat to UNRWA’s continued existence follows the US cut to the group’s budget by more than half in January, the shortfall of which has not been taken up by other contributing countries.

Already angered by that reduction in American aid, the Palestinian Authority (PA) slammed the Foreign Policy report in a statement on Saturday and warned against changing the “national” issue of refugees into an ordinary humanitarian one. This was in line, the statement added, with President Trump’s peace plan aiming to take away the Palestinian people’s “legitimate rights.”

Kushner’s ideas are being backed by Republican members of the House of Representatives.

As part of a bill introduced two weeks ago by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Co), “an alien who was firmly resettled in any country [would] not [be] eligible to retain refugee status” in terms of receiving aid from the US through UNRWA.

The UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support Act of 2018 would limit the US to assisting only the original refugees who had lost their “home and means of livelihood” as a result of the Arab-Israeli War of Independence in 1948 – as that was the stated purpose of the refugee organization when it was established.

It was only several years later that the eligibility requirements changed to include the refugees’ descendants, which meant that instead of the numbers steadily dropping as the years pass, they have jumped exponentially.

UNRWA ‘maintains a refugee population in perpetuity’

UNRWA claims to work on behalf of over 5.3 million people throughout the region.

The explanatory section in Lamborn’s bill says the legislation is necessitated by the fact that UNRWA “provides aid to those they define as Palestinian refugees until there is a solution they deem acceptable to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”– instead of working like the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) to resettle the population as soon as possible, no matter if there is a political settlement to the issue that caused the crisis. UNRWA’s unique policy, therefore, “maintains a refugee population in perpetuity.”

To support the reduction in aid, the bill also mentions the fact that UNRWA facilities and personnel support terrorist acts against Israel and that the agency receives a disproportionate amount of money for the numbers it supports in comparison to other refugees around the world.

It also states, however, that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) should use the money cut from UNRWA to provide “assistance to other populations in need in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.”