The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee strongly condemns the U.S. cut in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides education and healthcare to millions of Palestinian refugees I Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. The U.S. State Department announced late Tuesday evening a contribution of $60 million to UNRWA, an 80% cut over last year’s funding levels. The U.S.’s budget for UNRWA for 2017 was $350 million. A Department spokesperson added that funds are “frozen for future consideration” without stipulating the conditions. This abrupt cut in funding has created an existential crisis for UNRWA.
At stake is the education of more than 525,000 students, primary health care for millions, and the provision of emergency relief, including food assistance to one million refugees in Gaza. As UNRWA’s largest donor, this massive reduction in funding may lead to widespread school closures and the closing of clinics. No other UN or other international organization has the scale or scope to absorb UNRWA’s activities.
The United States should not hold hostage humanitarian funding to achieve political objectives. All humanitarian aid should be provided on the basis of need. In every other humanitarian and refugee context, the United States provides humanitarian assistance to those who are displaced from conflict on the basis of their need as civilians and never to achieve political gains. It should be no different with URNWA. No matter the US bilateral relationship with the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA should not be a bargaining chip. It is an independent agency, not a Palestinian institution. Holding hostage vulnerable refugees to extract ignoble concessions from the weaker party is not the behavior any American should be proud of.