White House Doubles Down on Palestinian Refugees Issue, Says UNRWA Mandate Must Change

Following criticism from Palestinian President Abbas over its plans to reform UNRWA, a White House official says the agency's mandate 'has perpetuated and exacerbated the refugee crisis and must be changed'

Palestinian refugees students from Syria and Lebanon play during their break at the UNRWA-run Jafna Elementary school, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, May 2018
Hassan Ammar/AP

WASHINGTON - After the criticism over its policy on the issue of Palestinian refugees, the White House is doubling down and repeating its call to change the mandate of UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of assisting Palestinian refugees and their descandants across the Middle East.

>> Read more: Kushner reportedly worked to strip Jordan's two million Palestinians of refugee status

A senior Trump administration official told Haaretz on Sunday that UNRWA's mandate "must change" and that such a change is in the interest of the Palestinian people.

The official explained that "UNRWA’s financial situation has been unsustainable for a long time, and for years we have voiced the need for UNRWA to seek out new voluntary funding streams, increase financial burden-sharing among donors, and find ways to reduce expenditures."

The official added that in the administration's view, "UNRWA’s mandate has perpetuated and exacerbated the refugee crisis and must be changed." Only such a change, the official added, would allow the Palestinian people to "reach their full potential."

These comments came a day after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blasted the administration and warned that the American attempts to change UNRWA are meant to "erase" the Palestinian issue and to hurt the rights of the Palestinian people.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' office responded Saturday to a report by U.S. magazine Foreign Policy claiming that U.S. President Donald Trump's senior adviser Jared Kushner pressured Jordan to strip the refugee status of the two million Palestinians residing in the country.

The Palestinian president's office said Friday's report proved that Kushner's attempt, as well as his disparaging comments about UNRWA, the UN refugee agency aiding Palestinians, were proof that the U.S. administration is plotting to push the Palestinian refugee issue off the negotiations table.