U.S. Official Says 'No Change' Planned in Policy on Palestinian Refugees, Contrary to Reports

The State Department said that the policy on Palestinian refugees is still under discussion within the administration, but the Washington Post reported otherwise just hours later

Palestinian residents walk on Lod street in the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp, Damascus, Syria, July 16, 2018.
Hassan Ammar,AP

WASHINGTON – Contrary to a number of recents reports in Israel and the U.S., a State Department official said on Thursday that the Trump administration has no plans at the moment to change its policy regarding the Palestinian "right of return." The official said, in reply to a question on the subject from Haaretz, that there is "no change at this time."

Just hours after the official made this statement, a new report in the Washington Post said that the administration is in fact planning to cut all U.S. funding to UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of assistance to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. The report echoed earlier reports by Israeli and American outlets. The State Department official, however, insisted that no decision on the matter has been made.

Earlier the U.S. official said, in reply to a question on the subject from Haaretz, that there is "no change at this time."

The official added, however, that the administration is considering different policy prescriptions on how to solve the Palestinian refugee problem. "We continue to study and evaluate alternatives for an equitable resolution of all refugee issues," the official said.

>> Report: Trump to demand recognized Palestinian refugees be capped at tenth of current number

Earlier this week, Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, made a similar statement during an conference in Washington.

The State Department's clarification came days after Israel's Channel 2 and other media outlets reported that the administration was planning to remove the "right of return" from the issues being negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians, and also to dramatically change the definition of the Palestinian refugee status.

According to those reports, the administration wants to change the definition in such a away that only 500,000 Palestinians of the approximately 5 million recognized as refugees would retain that status.

Haley touched on that subject earlier this week, saying that the Trump administration wants to see reforms take place at UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of assisting Palestinian refugees. The State Department official, however, said that the administration has no announcement right now with regards to UNRWA funding cuts.

It should be noted that in the past, the administration has issued comments with the words "no announcement at this time" in reply to reports that later on turned out to be true, such as Trump's intention to announce the Jerusalem embassy move last December.

In addition, the State department official said that the administration continues to review the issue of U.S. funding for Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem. The administration recently decided to cut $200 million in aid to the Palestinians. However, hospitals in East Jerusalem that serve the Palestinian population might be spared from that cut and continue to receive some support from the United States. These hospitals enjoy the support of religious Christian lobby groups in Washington. No decision on the subject has been reached thus far.