What Cutting US Funding for UNWRA Means

By Shep Gerszberg

On Tuesday, the United States announced that they would be withholding about $65 million from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA), the Palestinian refugee agency run by the United Nations. This announcement followed weeks of cooling relations between the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority since the Trump Jerusalem announcement, finally culminating in last week’s speech where P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas railed against the US, calling it unfit to be the negotiator in future peace talks and even went so far as to use an Arabic curse, roughly translating to, “may your house be destroyed,” against President Trump during his speech.

In addition to the announced aid cuts, the U.S. is also considering cutting other forms of aid to the Palestinians due to their rejection of returning to the negotiating table in new U.S. led peace talks, Abbas having called the U.S. proposal a “slap in the face.”

Say what you will about Trump’s Mideast strategy, but this was and is the right move. It is time to reexamine aid given to the Palestinians, both through UNWRA and directly.

In the case of UNWRA, setting aside its reported support for terror and incendiary terminology and ideology taught in UNWRA-run schools, the simple fact that the Palestinians have their own refugee agency separate from the overall refugee agency for the U.N., the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in addition to having its own definition of “refugee,” which allows them to still be refugees generations after any people left their homes is absurd.

It is absurd but, at this point, unsurprising. The U.N. has long been overly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, to the extent that their anti-Israel rhetoric has become commonplace. However, the U.S. does not need to be party to this absurdity. UNWRA needs to be absorbed into the UNHRC, for the Palestinians to accept the same standards for refugee status as everyone else, and for the onus of caring for those who would no longer qualify as refugees to fall on the shoulders of those truly responsible for the continuation of the Palestinian refugee issue to this day: the Arab states, which refuse to integrate these refugees into their countries.

The simple fact is that the continued nature of the Palestinian refugee issue, at this point in time, is at least 90 percent the fault of the Arab nations and they, in an ideal world, should be responsible for solving it, but why expect them to step up to take responsibility for something now? Time for the world to force them to take responsibility for their actions.

It was their assault on the nascent state of Israel which created these refugees, and while Israel shares in some of the blame for the creation of these refugees, after 70 years of the Arab world refusing to take in these refugees and integrate them into society, the blame falls on them.

The U.S. should not be paying millions of dollars to support an organization that only exists due to the special status of Palestinian refugees, whose mission should be taken on by the Arab nations. That is not to say the reality of the Palestinians living in refugee camps should be ignored simply to prove a point. They need to be taken care of until someone takes them in, and that role should fall to the same organization that handles every other refugee group, the UNHCR. The U.S. should continue to fund the UNHCR, and, if they absorb the Palestinian refugees into their mission statement, perhaps even increase funding to that particular agency.

Although the U.N. is inept when it comes to be a moral or political authority, they do organize aid competently. This increased funding to UNHCR should be paired with exerting political pressure on the Arab nations to step up and begin integrating these refugees into the countries they currently are located in, or, at the very least, the Palestinian Authority should contribute to supporting their own refugees. Maybe they can pay for it by ending their state-sponsored funding for terrorism through their “Martyr’s Fund.” Its time for the U.S. to stop treating the Arab state’s like children and instead force them to act like adults.

But the Trump administration should not stop there. It is time to reevaluate all our aid to the Palestinian Authority, including our direct aid to the P.A. We give the Palestinian Authority aid so that they stay in line with U.S. interests. In the past few weeks, the P.A. has cursed the U.S. president and stated that they would not come back to the table with the U.S. as a negotiator, voted to suspend their recognition of Israel, and threatened to attempt to go for full member status at the U.N., which we have warned them not to do multiple times.

Additionally, they continue their funding for terrorism even though we have asked them to stop many times, culminating in the Taylor Force Act aimed to force them to stop those payments. The P.A. has acted against U.S. interests continuously, and the simple fact is that their refusal to come back to the table should be adequate for us to at least evaluate cutting off aid.

The U.S. should make it clear that, not only has Abbas refused to come to the table, but he has acted irrationally and is in the 13th year of a four-year term. We should cut off all U.S. aid to the P.A. until a change in power has taken place and a moderate, with open eyes towards peace talks and respect for human rights and elections, has taken over the P.A. Only at that point, we should reevaluate resuming aid to the P.A.

About Shep Gerszberg 7 Articles
Shep Gerszberg is currently an intern at the Jewish Policy Center. Aside from The National Discourse, his work has appeared in Kol HaBirah and other outlets. He has also interned with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the New York State Affordable Housing Commission. He is a junior at the George Washington University studying international affairs, Middle East studies, and conflict resolution, specifically, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Afghanistan conflict, and the Pakistan-India conflict. He can be reached at shepgerszberg@gmail.com.