Israeli Defense Officials: Swift U.S. Cuts in UNRWA Funding Would Create Vacuum That Hamas Would Fill

Netanyahu supports breaking up the UN agency, which he says perpetuates the refugee status of the Palestinians

A Palestinian child plays in an impoverished neighborhood of the Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza, August 25, 2018.
AFP

Israeli defense officials told the country’s leaders Sunday that a swift cut in the budget of the UN’s Relief and Works Agency could lead to a vacuum in supplying basic services to the Gaza Strip, creating a gap that Hamas might fill.

The Trump administration is reportedly preparing to take a number of severe steps against the UN agency in the near future. Gaza’s food and education sectors would take the brunt of the blow. The U.S. is the largest donor to UNRWA, and last year transferred more than $360 million to the organization.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports breaking up UNRWA, which he says perpetuates the refugee status of the Palestinians. Israel, however, has told Washington a number of times over the past year that a dramatic and sudden cut in the agency’s budget could lead to a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and the strengthening of Hamas’ power.   

A report that is set to be published by the administration at the beginning of September will cap the number of Palestinian refugees at half a million – about a tenth of the UN's number, the Israel Television News Company reported Saturday.

In addition, the report said that the U.S. intends to freeze funding for the organization in the West Bank and to ask Israel to consider limiting its activities. 

Senior American government officials have recently visited UNRWA several times. A senior Trump administration official told Haaretz this month that "UNRWA’s mandate has perpetuated and exacerbated the refugee crisis and must be changed."

These remarks were made after a report that Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, pressured Jordan to strip the refugee status of the two million Palestinians residing in the country.

In January, the U.S. froze tens of millions of dollars it was scheduled to transfer to UNRWA.

In response, the UN aid agency enacted extensive cutbacks, including laying off dozens of teachers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and about 100 workers in 13 refugee camps in Jordan.