UN Mideast Envoy Urges Trump to Unfreeze Aid for Palestinian Refugees

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File photo: Palestinian students at an UNRWA school in Taalabaya, Lebanon.
File photo: Palestinian students at an UNRWA school in Taalabaya, Lebanon.Credit: Hassan Ammar/AP

UN special envoy to the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov on Tuesday urged U.S. President Donald Trump to resume funding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which helps Palestinian refugees. 

Addressing a UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East, Mladenov said that "UNRWA ’s financial crisis remains a very serious concern. At present, UNRWA needs some $217 million to sustain its work in 2018. I urge the swift mobilization of support to enable the continuity of assistance and a maintenance of stability on the ground in the region."

"UNRWA has communicated to staff that every effort will be made to mitigate the impact on the most vulnerable refugees of reductions in emergency assistance. Of particular concern, is the possibility of a delay to the start of the school year for some 526,000 students in UNRWA schools throughout its areas of operation."

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Trump withheld UNRWA aid after questioning its value and saying the Palestinians needed to agree to renew peace talks with Israel, while the State Department said UNRWA needed to make unspecified reforms.

U.S. envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley slammed Arab and Islamic states for talking a lot about supporting the Palestinians but not giving more money to help, calling out countries like Egypt, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Haley listed how much those countries, along with Algeria, Tunisia, Pakistan, Oman and Turkey, had given - or not given - to UNRWA. Washington, long the biggest donor, cut its aid to $60 million from a promised $365 million this year.

"No group of countries is more generous with their words than the Palestinians' Arab neighbors, and other OIC member states," Haley told the meeting, citing the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

"But all of the words spoken un here in New York do not feed, clothe, or educate a single Palestinian child. All they do is get the international community riled up," she said.

She also called out China and Russia for talking "a big game about the Palestinian cause" but providing only $350,000 and $2 million respectively to UNRWA in 2017.

"It is time for the regional states in particular to step up and really help the Palestinian people, instead of just making speeches thousands of miles away," said Haley.

Seven former U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations under both Republican and Democratic presidents urged U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this month to restore U.S. funding to UNRWA.

>> In Gaza, U.S. cuts to UN Palestinian refugee agency expected to endanger thousands of teachers' jobs >>

Jared Kushner, Trump's senior adviser, said late last month that Washington would announce its Middle East peace plan soon.

"It is now gone about a year since we discussed this here and we were informed about plans and we haven't seen it yet. I think there is a problem that there's no credible plan on the table," Sweden's U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog, president of the Security Council for July, told reporters.

There are gaping divisions between Washington and the Palestinian leadership that have widened since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December and moved the U.S. Embassy there, overriding decades of U.S. policy.

Haley said that if the Arab countries "really cared" they would tell Palestinian leaders "how foolish they look for condemning a peace proposal they haven't even seen yet." 

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