UN gets $100m for Palestinians amid steep US cuts

UN gets $100m for Palestinians amid steep US cuts
3 min read
16 March, 2018
The UN relief agency for Palestinians received $100 million in new pledges on Thursday, but is still facing a $350 million shortfall after steep US cuts.
Palestinian girl protests the US decision to cut funding to UNRWA [Getty]

The UN on Thursday received nearly $100 million of pledged funds for the relief agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) but is still facing a $350 million shortfall this year, AP reported.

A dozen countries announced the measures during an emergency UNRWA meeting, as the agency continues to face its worst funding crisis in decades after the US announced a cut in funding.

Qatar, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Mexico, Slovakia, India and France pitched in for the $100 million in new pledges. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the news but said "a long way is in front of us" to ensure the agency is fully funded.

"If UNRWA would not exist, if these services were not provided, the security of region would be severely undermined," Guterres told reporters. "Now it is very clear, it is absolutely essential, that the extraordinary unanimity in political support to UNRWA and its activities translates itself into cash."

UNRWA provides education, healthcare and social services to five million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon where hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees fled following Israel's establishment in 1948.

In January, the Trump administration said it would withold $65 of a planned $125 million funding installment. It released $60 million so the agency wouldn't shut down, but demanded major reforms before further funds could be released. 

But the actual cut was around $300 million because the US had led the agency to believe it would get $365 million in 2018, according to spokesman Christopher Gunness. UNRWA also entered 2018 with a $146 million shortfall, bringing the total budget shortfall to $446 million.

The US has traditionally been UNRWA's largest donor, providing 30 percent of its budget. Israel, which the Trump administration has forged closer ties to, is a sharp critic of the UN agency.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who co-hosted the emergency UNRWA meeting with Jordan and Sweden, said the agency has limited ability to streamline its activities "given the enormous needs faced by 5 million people".

"It is vital and it is necessary to address these very basic services, but also to provide dignity for multitudes of Palestinians and to (protect) many of them from the potential threats of radicalisation and terrorism," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, Trump continues to pressure Palestinians to end their boycott of his administration, which was launched after Washington announced it would relocate its embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The December announcement broke with decades of US policy that the status of Jerusalem be decided in future negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

UN officials are looking to European countries and Gulf states to step in and fill the US void.

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