Israel has welcomed a controversial move by the United States to cut funding to a United Nations agency supporting Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.
The US announced on Friday that it has “carefully reviewed” the aid program and “will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation.”
The decision made by the administration of President Donald Trump cuts some $300 million of planned support to the 70-year-old United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Israel, however, supported the move that has thrown the agency into financial crisis, according to an official in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Consolidating the refugee status of Palestinians is one of the problems that perpetuate the conflict,” said the official,” the official was quoted by AFP as saying.
Trump has formerly complained that Washington received “no appreciation or respect” for the aid it provided to the region.
He has also threatened this year to cut aid to the Palestinians over what he called their unwillingness to negotiate with Israel.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to the creation of the Israeli regime in 1948.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the US decision as a “flagrant assault” against Palestinians on Friday, said his spokesman.
UNRWA has for decades been providing health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
The Trump administration, which is preparing its own Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, separately said last week that it will cut $200 million slated for direct US aid to the Palestinian Authority. It said the budget would be “redirected” elsewhere.
The loss of funds will be hard on the Palestinians, according to Ghassan Khatib, vice president for development and communications at Birzeit University, near the occupied West Bank town of Ramallah. But, he said, it will do little to change these people’s status as refugees.
Meanwhile, a former Israeli lawmaker Einat Wilf said she would be happy to see the end of UNRWA, which she described as the major obstacle to peace in the region.
“UNRWA has allowed the Palestinian national identity to coalesce around the right to return and the undoing of Israel,” she said.
An estimated five million refugees and their descendants are currently recognized as eligible across the region.
The refugees’ “right of return” to their homeland has long been one of the key core issues in the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel rejects the right, saying that it represents a bid by the Palestinians to destroy Israel by weight of numbers.
According to a report last month, Trump in early September will set out its policy on the issue. His administration is said to produce a report which would recognizes only some half-a-million Palestinians, who should be legitimately considered refugees.
The plan, according to the report, rejects the UN designation, under which millions of descendants of the refugees are also considered refugees.
Reducing the number of eligible refugees, however, can be done only by the UN General Assembly.