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U.S. threatens to end all funding to UNRWA

Photo: Ibrahim Zanoun

Reports this week indicate that the U.S. is planning to end all funding to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).  

UNRWA provides vital funding to millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East. Ending U.S. funding to UNRWA places already vulnerable communities at a higher risk and politicizes humanitarian assistance that should be given based on need.  

Further, the U.S. is attempting to remove recognition of refugee status for millions of Palestinians. The goal of this move is to take the Palestinian refugee issue off of the negotiations table by effectively claiming they don’t exist. To try to dictate a peoples identity out of existence in this way in an effort to negate a sensitive issue outside of negotiation in a way that favors Israeli right wing interests over Palestinian rights is a move that will only cause more anger and complications. The aim of this change is to undermine Palestinians’ right to return, but neither the U.S. nor Israel has the right or authority to take away this right. A U.S. dictate cannot change the reality that refugee rights are a core issue that must be addressed.  

Rather than solving this issue, the proposed changes will make realizing a just peace harder. Undermining UNRWA will have significant and potentially destabilizing regional impacts in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and other locations where UNRWA has a significant presence.   

In February, AFSC joined with thirteen U.S. churches and church bodies to oppose drastic cuts to UNRWA’s funding. Ending all U.S. funding will cause even greater harm. 

AFSC shares a long history with UNRWA. In 1949, because of the experience AFSC gained in helping to resettle hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons following World War II, the UN asked the organization to take a 15-month engagement supporting Palestinian refugees coming into the Gaza Strip. This continued until UNRWA began its operations on May 1, 1950. The structures set up by AFSC in Gaza formed the basis of what became UNRWA. The agency’s vital work has continued to today. 

Punishing vulnerable refugees and potentially further destabilizing politics in the Middle East to please right wing Israeli interests is senseless. The administration should immediately reconsider this decision and representatives of both parties should pressure the administration until it does reconsider. 

About the Author

Mike Merryman-Lotze is the American Friends Service Committee’s Middle East Program Director.  He coordinates AFSC’s Israel and Palestine focused advocacy and policy programming, working closely with AFSC’s offices in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and throughout the US.