Photo via Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
The United States has cancelled its annual funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a refugee relief organization that provides food, education, and resources to millions of displaced Palestinian refugees.
According to the New York Times, the newly announced directive comes directly from President Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner. A fervent supporter of Israel, Kushner has reportedly ended the federal aid program in an attempt to compel Palestinian leaders to renege on demands that those refugees be allowed to return to their homeland.
Earlier this year, the State Department released $65 million to UNRWA, before Kushner, alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said that they would withhold another planned $60 million in aid. Now, despite objections from Pompeo, Kushner has decided that the U.S. will refuse any additional UNRWA funding. Over the past two years, the U.S. has transferred more than $300 million annually to support Palestinian refugees. That American contribution typically makes up a quarter of the agency’s yearly budget.
“What we’re seeing right now is a capricious move that has a very high risk of unsettling the region,” former United States aid official R. David Harden told the Times.
At the behest of his father in-law, Kushner has been working to broker a peace deal between Israel and Palestine since 2017. Despite his high-ranking position, though, Kushner has personal business investments in Israeli companies that a number of Palestinian leaders say are conflicts of interest in his role as an negotiator between the two sides. To those points, Kushner’s decision to end Palestinian aid funding and his vocal support for moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem both indicate a strong support for Israel’s claim to the contested holy land.
Every year, UNRWA supports millions of Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, providing free meals and education to the descendents of people who were pushed out of their home during the formation of the Israeli state after World War II. Without financial backing, the U.S. is sending a message that it does not respect the Palestinian people, and risks adding even more turmoil to the Middle East and some of the region’s most persecuted populations.
“The Trump Administration’s decision to end U.S. assistance to Palestinian refugees is wrong on every level,” Nicholas Burns, a Harvard Kennedy School professor and a former senior U.S. diplomat, wrote on Twitter. “It will harm innocent people, particularly young Palestinians.”
State Department spokespeople have been repeatedly asked to explain the UNRWA defunding further, but have divulged no additional information.