US halts all funding to UN body helping Palestinians

Palestinian schoolgirls queue at an UNRWA-run school. US has ended funding to the UN body supporting the Palestinians. (Reuters)
Updated 01 September 2018
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US halts all funding to UN body helping Palestinians

  • US State Department: Business model and fiscal practices of UNRWA were an “irredeemably flawed operation”
  • US President Donald Trump and his aides say they want to improve the Palestinians’ plight, as well as start negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement

WASHINGTON/RAMALLAH: The United States on Friday halted all funding to a UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees in a decision further heightening tensions between the Palestinian leadership and the Trump administration.
A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the decision as “a flagrant assault against the Palestinian people and a defiance of UN resolutions.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the business model and fiscal practices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) made it an “irredeemably flawed operation.”
“The administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA,” she said in a statement.
Nauert said the agency’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.”
The latest announcement comes a week after the administration said it would redirect $200 million in Palestinian economic support funds for programs in the West Bank and Gaza.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness voiced the agency’s “deep regret and disappointment” at the decision, which he said was surprising given that a December US funding agreement had acknowledged UNRWA’s successful management.
“We reject in the strongest possible terms the criticism that UNRWA’s schools, health centers, and emergency assistance programs are ‘irredeemably flawed,’” Gunness added in a series of Twitter posts.
The 68-year-old agency says it provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. Most are descendants of people who were driven out of their homes or fled the fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.
US President Donald Trump and his aides say they want to improve the Palestinians’ plight, as well as start negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
But under Trump, Washington has taken a number of actions that have alienated the Palestinians, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That move was a reversal of longtime US policy and led the Palestinian leadership to boycott the Washington peace efforts being led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law.
The United States paid out $60 million to UNRWA in January, withholding another $65 million, from a promised $365 million for the year.
“NOT PART OF THE SOLUTION“
“Such a punishment will not succeed to change the fact that the United States no longer has a role in the region and that it is not a part of the solution,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters.
He said “neither the United States nor anybody else will be able to dissolve” UNRWA.
In Gaza, the Islamist group Hamas condemned the USmove as a “grave escalation against the Palestinian people.”
“The American decision aims to wipe out the right of return and is a grave USescalation against the Palestinian people,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
He told Reuters the “USleadership has become an enemy of our people and of our nation and we will not surrender before such unjust decisions.”
Earlier on Friday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Germany would increase its contributions to UNRWA because the funding crisis was fueling uncertainty. “The loss of this organization could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction,” Maas said.
UNRWA has faced a cash crisis since the United States, long its biggest donor, slashed funding earlier this year, saying the agency needed to make unspecified reforms and calling on the Palestinians to renew peace talks with Israel.
The last Palestinian-Israeli peace talks collapsed in 2014, partly because of Israel’s opposition to an attempted unity pact between the Fatah and Hamas Palestinian factions and Israeli settlement building on occupied land that Palestinians seek for a state.
Nauert said the United States would intensify talks with the United Nations, the region’s governments and international stakeholders that could involve bilateral US assistance for Palestinian children.
“We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business,” she said.
Gunness told Reuters earlier in August that UNRWA’s support would be needed as long as the parties failed to reach an agreement to end the crisis.
“UNRWA does not perpetuate the conflict, the conflict perpetuates UNRWA,” he said. “It is the failure of the political parties to resolve the refugee situation which perpetuates the continued existence of UNRWA.”


Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 30 min 31 sec ago
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Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.