Aid for millions caught in US-Palestinian row: UN agency

Palestinians take part in a protest against aid cuts outside of United Nations’ offices in Gaza City on January 17, 2018. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees faces its worst funding crisis ever after the United States froze tens of millions of dollars in contributions. (AFP)
Updated 19 January 2018
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Aid for millions caught in US-Palestinian row: UN agency

JERUSALEM: The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinians said Friday the US decision to freeze tens of millions of dollars in aid resulted from diplomatic disputes rather than the agency’s performance.
The US State Department this week froze two planned payments worth more than $100 million to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), with a spokeswoman saying it was linked to necessary “reform” of the agency.
But Pierre Krahenbuhl, UNRWA’s commissioner general, said the agency had not been informed by the United States of any new reform demands, and was “caught up” in a dispute between the Palestinian leadership and the US administration.
“I have to look at this as not related to our performance but a decision and a debate that was caught up in the aftermath of what of course was the General Assembly resolution on Jerusalem and other matters,” Krahenbuhl told AFP in an interview in Jerusalem.
“My perception is there is a debate in the US administration about funding to the Palestinians and our funding got caught up in that.”
The US gave around $700 million in support to the Palestinians last year, of which about half went to UNRWA, which has a non-political mandate to provide schooling, health care and other services to Palestinians across the Middle East.
Israel and some American politicians accuse the agency of bias, with Israeli leaders saying its existence perpetuates the conflict.
The Palestinian leadership has cut ties with President Donald Trump’s administration since his controversial December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
It said that the US under Trump can no longer be mediator in peace talks with Israel.
The United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn the US decision on Jerusalem.
Trump had been pushing to restart peace talks but on January 2 he tweeted that the US gives the Palestinians “HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS” and gets “no appreciation or respect.”
“With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?“
On Tuesday his administration suspended $65 million to UNRWA, followed Thursday by another $45 million in food aid destined for the agency.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the money was being held but could be released “in the future, if reforms are met, if UNRWA agrees to undertake reforms, if other countries agreed to pitch in and provide money.”
Krahenbuhl said the agency had received no communication from the United States about further necessary reforms in recent days.
“What is new is a decision by the United States to dramatically reduce its contribution and that was not in the communications to me associated with reform elements.”


Netanyahu faces snap election calls after defense minister quits

Updated 15 November 2018
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Netanyahu faces snap election calls after defense minister quits

  • Avigdor Lieberman quit on Wednesday over what he described as the government’s too-soft policy on cross-border violence with Palestinian militants
  • The loss of the five seats of Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu faction leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced calls on Thursday from his coalition partners to hold an early election, a day after the defense minister’s resignation left the government with a razor-thin majority.
Avigdor Lieberman quit on Wednesday over what he described as the government’s too-soft policy on cross-border violence with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
The loss of the five seats of Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu faction leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament, raising the prospect that a scheduled November 2019 election would be brought forward.
Lieberman’s resignation takes effect 48 hours after being handed in, which he did early on Thursday. Each coalition partner will then have the power to bring down the government.
To avert a crisis, Netanyahu has been holding talks with ministers in an effort to stabilize the government.
Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who heads the centrist Kulanu party, said he told Netanyahu in their meeting that the responsible step to take would be to establish a new and stable government.
“The best thing for Israel’s citizens and economy is to hold an election as soon as possible,” Kahlon said in a statement. His call was echoed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas faction.
Adding to the pressure, Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home party, has demanded the defense brief by given to him.
Both Lieberman and Bennett, who compete with Netanyahu’s Likud for right-wing voters, have spoken in favor of harsh Israeli military action against Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists.
Israel has fought three wars in Gaza since Hamas took over the enclave in 2007.
“I asked the prime minister yesterday to appoint me defense minister to fulfil one goal only — that Israel start winning again,” Bennett said at a conference near Tel Aviv.
Jewish Home said on Wednesday that without the defense brief, there would be no point in keeping the government together.
However Bennett did not repeat this in his remarks on Thursday nor did he render an explicit ultimatum to Netanyahu, with whom he is due to meet on Friday.
It was unclear whether Netanyahu would opt for an early election.
Netanyahu is under investigation for corruption, and speculation has been rife that he may bring the ballot forward in order to win a renewed mandate before Israel’s attorney-general decides whether to indict him.
A poll published on Wednesday by Israel’s Hadashot television news showed Likud falling by one seat from 30 to 29 after months of surveys that have shown it gaining power. Only 17 percent of respondents were happy with Netanyahu’s Gaza policy.