UN Palestinian aid faces funding battle without US help

UNRWA provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 March 2019

UN Palestinian aid faces funding battle without US help

  • Washington’s decision to pull all funding further heightened tensions between the Palestinian leadership and the administration of US President Donald Trump
  • Trump at the time cited US and Israeli criticism of UNRWA’s method of counting people as refugees — which they say has created a growing number of agency beneficiaries

BRUSSELS: The UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees said on Thursday it needed $1.2 billion in funding for 2019 as it faced its first full year without US support.
Pierre Kraehenbuehl, who heads the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinians across the Middle East, said it had had to turn to countries as poor as Afghanistan last year for help after Washington withdrew its funding in August.
“There is no US funding for the first time and no indication that they are reconsidering,” he told Reuters on the margins of a donors conference for Syria.
“I can’t think of a time, even in the 1950s, 60s or 70s, when we were without the US ... they built schools, health centers and that is very important to recognize,” Kraehenbuehl said.
Washington’s decision to pull all funding further heightened tensions between the Palestinian leadership and the administration of US President Donald Trump.
Trump at the time cited US and Israeli criticism of UNRWA’s method of counting people as refugees — which they say has created a growing number of agency beneficiaries.
UNRWA provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. Most are descendants of about 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.
Gulf states, Norway, Turkey, Japan and Canada stepped in with funding last year, while Afghanistan donated $1 million, Kraehenbuehl said.
He said it was unlikely that all donors would give the same amounts again this year, putting an increased burden on Europe.
Kraehenbuehl said Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the resulting tensions with the Palestinians, had prompted the US to halt funding to UNRWA.
Kraehenbuehl warned of the risks to 280,000 school children in Gaza who depend on the UN agency.
“Where do they go if they no longer have access to UNRWA education? What happens? We know: the levels of frustration (in the region) will grow,” he said.
“It is crucial to keep children in school to have a personal horizon in the absence of a political horizon,” he said, referring to the stalled Middle East peace process.
Washington’s peace efforts are being led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law. Kraehenbuehl said he had not been consulted in drawing up the strategy, which has yet to be made public.


Macron slams Turkey’s aggression in Syria as ‘madness’, bewails NATO inaction

Updated 5 min 9 sec ago

Macron slams Turkey’s aggression in Syria as ‘madness’, bewails NATO inaction

  • EU Council President Donald Tusk said the halt of Turkish hostilities as demanded by the US is not a genuine cease-fire
  • He calls on Ankara to immediately stop military operations,

BRUSSELS/ANKARA: Macron critizes Turkey's aggression in Syria as "madness', bewails NATO inaction

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has bemoaned Turkey’s offensive into northern Syria as “madness” and decried NATO’s inability to react to the assault as a “serious mistake.”

“It weakens our credibility in finding partners on the ground who will be by our side and who think they will be protected in the long term. So that raises questions about how NATO functions.”

EU Council President Donald Tusk said the halt of Turkish hostilities is not a genuine cease-fire and called on Ankara to immediately stop military operations in Syria.

Dareen Khalifa, a senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the cease-fire had unclear goals. 

There was no mention of the scope of the area that would be under Turkish control and, despite US Vice President Mike Pence referring to a 20-mile zone, the length of the zone remains ambiguous, she said.

Selim Sazak, a doctoral researcher at Brown University, believed the agreement would be implemented and the YPG would withdraw.

“The agency of the YPG is fairly limited. If the deal collapses because of the YPG, it’s actually all the better for Ankara,” he told Arab News. “What Ankara originally wanted was to take all of the belt into its control and eliminate as many of the YPG forces as possible. Instead, the YPG is withdrawing with a portion of its forces and its territory intact. Had the deal collapsed because of the YPG, Ankara would have reason to push forward, this time with much more legitimacy.”