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#26 Trump administration to end U.S. funding to U.N. program for Palestinian refugees

© Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP /Getty Images
A student stands at the entrance of a school run by United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees in the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank on August 29, 2018. The Trump administration has decided to cancel all U.S. funding of that U.N. program.

The Trump administration has decided to cancel all U.S. funding of the United Nations aid program for Palestinian refugees, part of its determination to put its money where its policy is as it seeks a recalculation of U.S. foreign aid spending and prepares its own Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

In an announcement to be made within the next several weeks, the administration plans to voice its disapproval of the way the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, spends the funds and to call for a sharp reduction in the number of Palestinians recognized as refugees, dropping it from more than 5 million, including descendants, to fewer than a tenth of that number or less, comprised of those still alive from when the agency was created seven decades ago, according to officials familiar with the decision.

Any such reduction would effectively eliminate, for most Palestinians, the “right of return” to land contested with Israel. More immediately, many regional foreign policy and security experts, including in Israel, say that slashing UNRWA’s budget, amid a call to “de-register” refu­gees, would worsen an already disastrous humanitarian situation, especially in Gaza, and sharply increase the level of violence.

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In addition to contributions to UNRWA, the United States has provided direct, bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza. Last week, the State Department announced that more than $200 million in already-appropriated aid for this year would be “redirected” elsewhere. The cuts in funding, along with shifts in policy, including recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, are part of a major reshaping of Middle East policy under President Trump.

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