Aid for millions caught in US-Palestinian row, says UN agency

Residents wait to receive humanitarian aid at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk, in Damascus March 11, 2015. — Reuters pic
Residents wait to receive humanitarian aid at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk, in Damascus March 11, 2015. — Reuters pic

JERUSALEM, Jan 19 — The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinians said today the US decision to freeze of tens of millions of dollars in aid resulted from diplomatic disputes rather than the agency’s performance.

The US State Department this week froze two planned payments worth more than US$100 million (RM393.7 million) to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), with a spokeswoman saying it was linked to necessary “reform” of the agency.

But Pierre Krahenbuhl, UNRWA’s commissioner general, said the agency had not been informed by the United States of any new reform demands, and was “caught up” in a dispute between the Palestinian leadership and the US administration.

“I have to look at this as not related to our performance but a decision and a debate that was caught up in the aftermath of what of course was the General Assembly resolution on Jerusalem and other matters,” Krahenbuhl told AFP in an interview in Jerusalem.

“My perception is there is a debate in the US administration about funding to the Palestinians and our funding got caught up in that.”

The US gave around US$700 million in support to the Palestinians last year, of which about half went to UNRWA, which has a non-political mandate to provide schooling, healthcare and other services to Palestinians across the Middle East.

Israel and some American politicians accuse the agency of bias, with Israeli leaders saying its existence perpetuates the conflict.

The Palestinian leadership has cut ties with President Donald Trump’s administration since his controversial December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

It said that the US under Trump can no longer be mediator in peace talks with Israel.

The United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn the US decision on Jerusalem.

Trump had been pushing to restart peace talks but on January 2 he tweeted that the US gives the Palestinians “HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS” and gets “no appreciation or respect.”

“With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

On Tuesday his administration suspended US$65 million to UNRWA, followed yesterday by another US$45 million in food aid destined for the agency.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the money was being held but could be released “in the future, if reforms are met, if UNRWA agrees to undertake reforms, if other countries agreed to pitch in and provide money.”

Krahenbuhl said the agency had received no communication from the United States about further necessary reforms in recent days.

“What is new is a decision by the United States to dramatically reduce its contribution and that was not in the communications to me associated with reform elements.” — AFP

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