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Is Trump right to threaten cutting off Palestinian refugee funds?

Donald Trump has questioned US funding of UNRWA, the agency that supports millions of Palestinian refugees. Is he right?

    Palestinians protest against the United States for its decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
    Palestinians protest against the United States for its decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital Photo: Getty Images

    YES

    By Stephen Pollard

    If you want some Trump-bashing, I’m your man. This president is a bigot, a fool, a sexist — yup, I’m a fully signed up member of the Trump-loathing club.

    But I have to concede he has a point on aid and the UN, even if — if you’ll forgive the cliché – it’s just a stopped-clock moment.

    The US funds a quarter of UNWRA’s entire budget— $152 million in direct contributions and a further $216 million supporting its work.

    Not a penny of that is the Palestinians’ money. Every penny of it comes from US taxpayers. And yet the mere suggestion that the US president might argue there should be some sort of quid pro quo for the money is regarded as some sort of outrage.

    But be clear what UNWRA is. It is not a refugee agency in the normal sense of resettling those who have fled their home. It is a body that exists to keep Palestinians as permanent refugees — a welfare agency that has used billions of US dollars to keep those it supports in perpetual dependency on the basis that Israel is really theirs. (And that’s without  even mentioning the hate that is taught in some UNWRA schools.)

    In return for those billions of dollars, the Palestinian leaders have had to do precisely nothing to move towards a settlement with Israel. The money tap is never turned off.

    Is it really that wrong for President Trump to point out that the US “gives them hundreds of millions of dollars” but gets “no respect” in return?

    Last month, he  suggested that those countries in receipt of billions of dollars of US aid might consider that point before screaming about the US and then voting against it at the UN.

    There is no divine — or even earthly — imperative that requires the US taxpayer to continue on this same path. And just because it is President Trump who has pointed it out doesn’t make it wrong.

    NO

    By Daoud Kuttab

    The United Nations Relief Works Agency was created to deal with a humanitarian problem: how to provide temporary shelter, food, medical support and basic education to Palestinian refugees displaced with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

    Even Israel makes modest contributions to the agency and supported its work in the knowledge that poverty and lack of education will spur more violent resistance.

    But President Donald Trump is trying to dictate a peace resolution by forcefully siding with the Israelis on two contentious issues: Jerusalem and the right of refugees’ return.

    Having lost any leverage over the Palestinian government, the White House is now turning to removing UN support that is aimed at mitigating a humanitarian problem. Blackmailing the leadership this way will not work, just like previous efforts failed.

    Mr Trump and his sidekick Nikki Haley could not persuade its allies — Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and those in Europe — not to vote against the US at the UN General Assembly, even after warning of financial punishment. This case is no different.

    Today, most Palestinian refugees live in the besieged Gaza Strip. Mr Trump’s actions will not cause demonstrations that will send Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rushing to Washington to accept whatever diktats Mr Trump and his aides have to offer.

    The absence of a political strategy, which this action signals, is exactly the opposite of what is needed now.

    What does exist is a naive US attempt to dictate a solution on Palestinians while rewarding the aggressor and occupier who refuses to accept international law.

    Mr Trump is punishing UNRWA and Palestinian refugees because Mr Abbas rejects an “ultimate deal” whose features are known to no one. If the early signs are anything to go by, it has no chance of success.

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