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UNRWA under attack?

Jan 08,2018 - Last updated at Jan 08,2018

Over the last decade, efforts to push forward Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have stalled. It goes without saying that the American administrations have contributed in the current impasse. US President Donald Trump's ill-advised and provocative decision of acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a break from longstanding American policy, which views Jerusalem’s status as one of the final status issues to be resolved through negotiations.

Evidently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to exploit President Trump’s anti-Palestinian stance. He told his Cabinet that UNRWA has to be shut once and for all. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, UNRWA — which offers some help to the Palestinian refugees — “perpetuates the right of return narrative in order to eliminate the state of Israel”. That being said, the fact remains that the failure to reach a final deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis has perpetuated the Palestinian misery. Only a final just and lasting solution can justify the shutdown of the UN agency.

Indeed, the Israeli government is emboldened by President Trump’s intention to destroy the peace process. A few days ago, President Trump tweeted that his country pays the Palestinians hundreds of millions of US dollars and get no appreciation or respect in return. He adds that “with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” On Friday, Trump answered his question and cut funding to the Palestinians by freezing a $125 million transfer to UNRWA. To be sure, President Trump is yet to internalise that he has sabotaged the peace process. Now he is blaming the Palestinians for his own irresponsible actions.

 Thus far, the Palestinians have refused to get blackmailed by the American administration. This desperate American behaviour of defunding UNRWA is designed to force the Palestinians into submission to accept the parameters of Trump’s concept of peace. While the Palestinians are willing to resume the peace process based on a two-state solution, the American administration seeks to change the basis of the solution. In other words, the “deal of the century” that Trump promised is a smoke screen that conceals legitimising the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land.

Interestingly, even the peace camp in the Arab world is having a hard time making sense of the new American actions. I am suspicious that only a few will appreciate the logic behind the attack on UNRWA. Therefore, defunding UNRWA will not make the refugee problem something of the past. It is not as if the refugee problem will be solved even if UNRWA is coming to an end.


In brief, by taking these actions, President Trump has succeeded in disqualifying his country from playing the “honest” broker role. For the Arabs and the Palestinians in particular, the United States has become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Trump’s bullying tactics and defunding UNRWA are not expected to force the Palestinians to capitulate.

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