By Nick Wadhams
The U.S. State Department is reneging on a pledge to contribute $45 million in food aid, health services and other relief it promised to deliver to Palestinian refugees by this month, adding to cutbacks announced earlier this week.
In a letter dated Dec. 17, State Department Comptroller Eric Hembree had told the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or Unrwa, that it would pay the money in response to a West Bank and Gaza emergency appeal “by or before early January 2018.”
But that money has now been frozen as part of U.S. demands for changes in Unrwa.
After much delay, the administration agreed this week to pay $60 million to the aid organization to cover salaries and other administrative costs, while withholding an additional $65 million normally paid all at once. The money that was provided can’t be used for any other purpose.
The $45 million now being withheld leaves Unrwa in the lurch because it went ahead and purchased food aid and other supplies after it received the Dec. 17 pledge letter from the State Department.
“It was a pledge that we made very clear that we would need to confirm later, so upon reviewing that we’re not able to provide that at this time,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Thursday. “But that doesn’t mean that money may not be paid out later on.”
Nauert wouldn’t say what changed between Dec. 17, when the letter promising the aid was sent, and when the decision was made to withhold the funds.
Since Dec. 17, Palestinian leaders cut off diplomatic contact with the U.S. in response to President Donald Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital and his announcement that the American embassy would be moved there from Tel Aviv. Trump responded by tweeting on Jan. 2 that the U.S. pays the Palestinians “HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year” and gets “no appreciation or respect” in return.
In a statement this week announcing the decision to withhold $65 million in Unrwa funding for now, the State Department called on other nations to “do their part” if there were additional urgent needs.