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Trump to announce freeze of all funds to UNRWA

Aug. 31, 2018 2:05 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 1, 2018 7:26 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The United States President Donald Trump is expected to announce the decision to completely end its funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

According to Foreign Policy news outlet, the decision was made at a meeting earlier this month between Trump's adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The US has been providing UNRWA about $350 million per year, making itself UNRWA's largest donor. The total amount made up more than a third of the agency's $1.2 billion annual budget, according to UNRWA's website.

Dave Harden, a former U.S. Agency for International Development official, said "an immediate and capricious cut off of UNRWA funding, risks collapsing the Palestinian Authority, empowering Hamas and shifting the responsibility of health, education, and ultimately security services to the Israelis."

Harden added that the US administration's decision is "dangerous, with unpredictable consequences."

In addition, Kushner argues that UNRWA's assistance has built "a culture of dependency" among the Palestinians and that it helps preserve unrealistic expectations that Palestinians would have the right of return to their homelands, now known as Israel.

The right of return is one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tens of thousands of Palestinians fled in the 1948 and 1968 Arab-Israeli wars and have demanded a right of return to their homes ever since.

According to UNRWA counts, the total number of Palestinian refugees demanding the right of return is currently 5.3 million Palestinians.

The US administration is also cutting other aid to the Palestinians, including over $200 million that provide Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank with medical assistance and other humanitarian services.

A senior US State Department official said "those funds will now address high-priority projects elsewhere."

The drastic aid cut is expected to cause a deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the besieged Gaza Strip, where nearly 2 million Palestinians are packed into the coastal enclave that suffers deep economic hardship.

It is noteworthy that UNRWA currently faces a budget deficit of $270 million, which would force the agency to suspend its activities by the end of September, as it could cause serious consequences regarding the humanitarian situation and will negatively affect the stability of the region.

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