By Adam Rasgon
UNRWA provides education, health and social welfare to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
The head of a UN body that provides services to Palestinian refugees turned to the international community for funding on Wednesday, after the US withheld a large portion of its planned annual contribution to the organization.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced that it would deliver only $60 million of what was expected to be a $125m. donation.
The announcement to withhold funds came some two weeks after Trump suggested he would cut aid to the Palestinians, if they do not return to the negotiating table with Israel.
At a briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert did not mention Palestinians returning to negotiations as a condition to releasing the frozen funds. Instead, she said the Trump administration would like to see UNRWA enact reforms and see other nations donate more funds to the agency.
“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees in need of emergency food assistance and other support,” UNRWA c o m m i s s i o n e r- g e n e r a l Pierre Krahenbuhl said in a statement. “At stake is the access of refugees to primary healthcare, including prenatal care and other lifesaving services.”
UNRWA provides education, health and social welfare services to Palestinian refugees and their descendants in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
The UN agency runs 700 schools, where 525,000 boys and girls study, and operates 143 health clinics.
Krahenbuhl also said that the reduced American donation “impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiple risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization.”
The IDF has been known to oppose reductions to UNRWA’s budget, fearing that they could increase the possibility of violence.
In early January, former IDF spokesman Peter Lerner tweeted that “refugee camps have historically been hotbeds for terrorist activities,” adding that “weakening this population will only lead to more extremism and violence.”
On Tuesday, PLO Executive Committee member Mustafa Barghouti accused Trump of trying “to liquidate the rights of Palestinian refugees.”
“This is not merely a decision to cut money. This is a political decision that is aiming to liquidate the rights of the Palestinian refugees,” Barghouti told The Jerusalem Post in a phone call, adding that “it will not affect the determination of the Palestinians to keep the issue of refugees alive.”
Like Krahenbuhl, Barghouti also called for the international community to make up for the withheld funding.
Reuters contributed to this story.