The US Is Withholding $45M in Food Aid to Palestinian Refugees
The State Department called last week for a “fundamental re-examination” of Palestinian aid.
Just days after announcing plans to cut aid to Palestinian refugees in half, US President Donald Trump’s administration is now withholding further funds to the Palestinian Authority — and this time it could be deadly.
On Thursday, the State Department said it would not immediately deliver $45 million in food aid to the United Nations Relief Work Agency’s (UNRWA), which provides humanitarian aid and other services to Palestinians, Time reports.
This announcement seems to at least temporarily override a previous announcement last December, in which State Department Comptroller Eric Hembree pledged the funds to UNRWA, pending confirmation in early January, according to Reuters.
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“At this time, we will not be providing that [aid], but that does not mean — I want to make it clear — that does not mean that it will not be provided in the future,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said at a Thursday briefing.
Earlier this week, the Trump administration withheld $65 million in aid to UNRWA, citing the need for a “fundamental re-examination” of the agency’s work in the region.
In response to Tuesday’s announcement, Belgium pledged $23 million to UNRWA Wednesday, saying the agency faced “financial difficulties,” Al Jazeera reports.
“For a lot of Palestinian refugees the UNRWA is the last life buoy,” Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, said in a statement. “With the help of UNRWA half a million of Palestine children are able to go to school. This prevents them from falling prey to radicalisation and extreme violence.”
The US decisions to withhold aid come in the wake of a controversial decision by Trump in early December of last year to recognize the contested city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the US Embassy there.
For Palestinians, the loss of critical aid through UNRWA could have immediate health and other impacts. The United States in 2016 was the largest donor to UNRWA, giving $370 million in aid, Thomson Reuters reports.
The $45 million pledge the US made to UNRWA was to provide potentially life-saving food aid, including rations and other supplies, to an estimated 1 million Palestinians, according to Foreign Policy. UNRWA, expecting this money to come in January, already used “millions” of it to buy “rice, lentils, flour, and other vital staples,” Foreign Policy reported, and now risks accruing significant debts.
According to Foreign Policy, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis have both called on the Trump administration to maintain aid for Palestinian, and other, refugees.
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