Abbas Urges European, Arab States to Donate to UNRWA After U.S. Cuts

Palestinian leadership says cuts to UN Palestinian refugee agency's budget is to pressure them to accept U.S. position on future negotiations

Palestinians take part in a protest against aid cuts outside of United Nations' offices in Gaza City on January 17.
Mohammed Abed/AFP

The Palestinian Authority has turned to European, international and Arab world officials, urging them to contribute to UNRWA, the United Nations agency assisting Palestinian refugees, in the wake of the hole left in the agency's budget following U.S. cuts.

The Palestinian leadership believes the U.S. cuts to the budget of the agency is meant to pressure the leaders to accept the U.S. position on future negotiations as well as to take the refugee issue off the table.

A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that PA President Mahmoud Abbas will meet on Monday with the European Union foreign ministers, and hold a meeting at the end of the month with the donor countries. Both meetings are to take place in Brussels. “The issue of the refugees is considered one of the most sensitive and could impact stability not only in the areas of the PA, but in other countries as well, like Lebanon and Jordan, and so this is not a domestic Palestinian issue but a prime international issue.”

According to the official, the meetings with the foreign ministers of Europe and of the donor countries are being held mainly in the context of President Donald Trump’s declaration regarding Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and its consequences, as well as the threat to stop funding UNRWA.

The proposal to move ahead with the two meetings came up during talks between Abbas and the Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen in Ramallah about two weeks ago, as did the suggestion that Norway would chair the meeting of the donor countries. “The Norwegians talked about a move that would support the two-state solution and made clear that another meeting in support of the two-state solution must include operative measures,” the senior official said.

The official said that the Palestinian leadership was also planning an international conference like the one held in Paris a year ago, with clearer messages including recognition of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders with its capital East Jerusalem. “At that time they wanted to give Trump a chance. Now it’s clear to everyone that this administration has nothing to contribute to a solution, on the contrary.”

The Palestinian assessment about the American position was formulated over the past few weeks, and was expressed in a document distributed to the members of the Palestinian Central Council, which met last week in Ramallah. The document, which was written by Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, was formulated based on meetings held until recently with Trump’s envoys and senior U.S. officials as well as representatives of think tanks, and not based on an official document presented by the Americans to the Palestinians.

The assessment states that following Trump’s declaration about Jerusalem the administration “would invent” a capital for the Palestinians on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and within three months the administration would propose a demilitarized state with a strong police force and Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation and areas of cooperation with Jordan and Egypt under the auspices of the United States. The United States would also propose the presence of Israeli forces along the border with Jordan and the West Bank mountain ranges, where Israel would retain full security control. The document also stated that Israel would withdraw gradually from Area A (under full Palestinian control) and Area B (under Palestinian civil control) and would expand Area C (under Israeli civil and military control). The document states that the Palestinians believe the international community would recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jews and Palestine as a Palestinian nation-state and that the refugee issue would be resolved within the Palestinian state.

Portions of the ports of Haifa and Ashdod, and Ben-Gurion airport would be set aside for the use of Palestinians, with Israel retaining security control, according to the document. The safe passage route between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would be under Israeli sovereignty. There would be Palestinian presence at crossing points but overall security control would be Israeli. “These are the signs of the deal of the century that the Trump administration is trying to force on the Palestinians and so we do not need to wait for the liquidation deal being forced on us,” Erekat wrote.