(September 2, 2018 / JNS) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the United States for its decision to slash payments to the controversial UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) organization.
On Friday, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump announced that it would cut nearly $300 million from its UNRWA funding and slammed the organization for perpetuating conflict between Israel and the Palestinians by perpetuating the idea that all Palestinians are refugees.
In a written statement released Friday, the State Department said the U.S. “will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation” and its “exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.” The United States said it would find other ways to fund projects to benefit the Palestinians.
Speaking at a ceremony for Israel’s first day of school, Netanyahu asked, “Have displaced people not come to us from various countries? Holocaust survivors torn from their land? They were displaced, survived and came here. Did we keep them in the status of refugees? No, we absorbed them, including hundreds of thousands of Jews who left all their property behind and were expelled from Arab countries in the  War of Independence.”
“We did not keep them as refugees. We made them equal and contributing citizens of our state,” added Netanyahu. “That is not what is happening with the Palestinians, in which 70 years ago they created a special institution: not absorbing refugees, and instead perpetuating refugees.”
“That’s why the U.S. did something very important by stopping funding for the refugee perpetuation agency known as UNRWA,” Netanyahu continued. “It is finally starting to solve the problem. The funds must be taken and used to genuinely help rehabilitate the refugees, whose true number is a fraction of the number reported by UNRWA.”
The U.S. administration said it was willing to continue working with UNRWA if the body amended its numbers to reflect the number of people who were original refugees of the war in 1948. Though only tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs were displaced in the war, UNRWA currently numbers refugees from the War of Independence at 5 million people. According to international law, refugee status cannot be automatically conferred on descendants by birth, and must reflect personal displacement as a result of war, persecution, or natural disaster.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry also praised the U.S. decision in a statement, deriding UNRWA as an entity whose “sole purpose is sustaining an illegitimate instrument aimed at the destruction of the State of Israel.”