Palestinian schoolchildren at a protest against the U.S. decision to withhold funds earmarked for UNRWA, Gaza City, February 4, 2018. MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

102 Congress Members Urge Trump: Don't Cut Funds to UN Palestinian Aid Agency

Slashes to URNWA, they write, will reduce Washington's 'ability to help the Israelis and Palestinians reach a two-state solution'

WASHINGTON – A coalition of 102 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump on Thursday urging him not to cut U.S. funding of the U.N. agency in charge of assisting Palestinian refugees and their descendants in the Middle East. The letter was initiated by Reps. Peter Welch of Florida and David Price of North Carolina, and all the members who signed it are from the Democratic party. 

The members wrote that Trump's recent decision to freeze a significant portion of American assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) "will harm American interests by exacerbating the threats facing both peoples and reducing the United States’ ability to help the Israelis and Palestinians reach a two-state solution.” The United States is the largest donor to UNRWA, and provides approximately a quarter of the agency's annual budget. Last month, the Trump administration announced it is withholding half of the first scheduled U.S. payment of 2018.

The members also warned in their letter that "deliberately exacerbating the hardship of the Palestinian people and reducing the ability of their government to function would only contribute to the benefit of those who reject engagement. Extremist and anti-Israel groups would be all too eager to fill in the vacuum, deepening their hold in the region and expanding their destructive influence on the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.”

In their letter, the members mentioned news reports indicating that Israel asked the Trump administration to reconsider cuts to UNRWA's budget. "The Israeli Government deems UNRWA’s work providing basic services and education to Palestinian refugees so consequential for Israeli security that it has reportedly weighed in with your administration in support of maintaining U.S. contributions to the agency, despite frequent criticism of it," they wrote. 

The members also mentioned an article that was published last month in Haaretz by "Former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Peter Lerner," who wrote that “By weakening UNWRA and, consequentially, the Palestinian population even further, without a real administrative alternative, I believe that Palestinians will be even more susceptible to extremism and violence. This will not contribute to security or stability in the region.”

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