Netanyahu: U.S. Decision to Cut UNRWA Funds 'A Blessed and Important Change'

Netanyahu says it is necessary 'to abolish the refugee institution' ■ Israel's UN envoy blasts Abbas' plan to address UN on fund cut, says the UN agency perpetuated terrorism

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a ceremony celebrating the new school year in Yad Binyamin, Israel, September 2, 2018
Avi Ohayon (GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday lauded the Trump administration's decision to cut financial aid to UNRWA, the United Nations' Palestinian refugee aid agency, and also called to abolish the "refugee institution."

On Friday, the U.S. officially announced it was cutting its entire aid budget to UNRWA. The decision came after weeks of speculation on the subject, conflicting reports and vague denials by administration officials.

>> Defunding UNRWA is an example of Trump’s ‘peace’ plan | Analysis ■ Mounting U.S. economic pressure on Palestinians could reignite Israel-Gaza violence 

Speaking at a school year opening ceremony at an elemntary school in Yad Binyamin settlement, Netanyahu said the purpose of UNRWA was to perpetuate the refugee status.

"That is why the U.S. did a very important thing, by cutting funding to an agency that immortalizes refugees … it is finally starting to solve the problem," he said, adding that it is necessary to "abolish the refugee institution, to take the funds and really help rehabilitate the refugees, whose true number is a fraction of the number reported by UNRWA."

The premier also addressed the fact that the community he was speaking to "absorbed people who were uprooted from Gush Katif," individuals who were evaucated from their homes when Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005.

Netanyahu compared the evacuees of Gush Katif and other communities of people who were absorbed in Israel after they left their homelands to Palestinian refugees. 

"We did not leave them as refugees; we turned them into equal citizens, who contribute, in out state. This is not what is happening with the Palestinians," he said. 

"They created a unique institution, 70 years ago, not to absorb the refugees but to perpetuate them. Therefore, the U.S. has done a very important thing by halting the financing for the refugee perpetuation agency known as UNRWA," Netanyahu continued.

Also Sunday, Israel's UN envoy Dani Danon responded to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' claim he would appeal to the UN following the U.S. decision, saying Abbas needs to "understand that turning to the UN won't help. UNRWA also perpetuated the conflict and the incitement."

Like Netanyahu, Danon welcomed and supported the U.S. decision, saying he "hopes the money will now be directed to the welfare of the population and not to perpetuating terrorism."

Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg lambasted Netanyahu's comments on Sunday, saying he was "going against the stance of the security establishment, pouring gasoline on a fire he can't put out anyway."

The Meretz head was referring to reports that Israeli intelligence officials believe economic pressure on Palestinians could lead to a violent flare-up amid attempts to reach a long term truce.

Zandberg said UNRWA is responsible for the lives of a million Gazans, supplying them with basic neccesities such as food and "while efforts are being made to reach a truce and stability, Netanyahu acts in the opposite direction."

Following the funding cut, The European Union issued a statement Saturday pledging to continue supporting UNRWA, implying it may increase funding to the agency if deemed necessary.

The U.S. announced its decision to cut its funding of UNRWA on Friday with a statement saying, "The administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA," the State Department announced.

"The fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years – tied to UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially," added spokeswoman Heather Nauert.