US mulls another drastic cut to Palestinian aid agency’s budget

U.S. lawmakers seek to penalize U.N. relief agency for inflating number of Palestinian refugees from 20,000 to 5.2 million • Sources say Trump administration likely to release long-classified report.

A school play performed at the UNRWA Nuseirat School in Gaza, in which students hold an Israeli hostage at gunpoint, April 2016. Credit: Center for Near East Policy Research.
A school play performed at the UNRWA Nuseirat School in Gaza, in which students hold an Israeli hostage at gunpoint, April 2016. Credit: Center for Near East Policy Research.

U.S. lawmakers have introduced a new piece of legislation that would drastically reduce U.S. funding for the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA.

The United States is UNRWA’s biggest contributor. In January, the State Department notified the agency that the United States would be withholding $65 million of the $125 million earmarked for it, saying that additional U.S. donations would be contingent on major changes by UNRWA.

UNRWA says there are 5.2 million Palestinian refugees. However, this is mainly because it considers the descendants of Palestinians that were displaced in 1948 as having refugee status even if they are not living as refugees.

A recent American survey found that there were only 20,000 Palestinian refugees living in the world today.

The legislation, sponsored by Representative Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), is backed by at least 10 members of the House of Representatives.

According to The Washington Free Beacon, if passed, it will “redefine how Palestinian refugees are viewed by the international community, reducing millions in U.S. aid dollars to UNRWA.”

Congress has recently tried to force the U.S. State Department to release a long-classified report to show the real number of Palestinian refugees. Sources that have read the report told The Washington Free Beacon that the number of Palestinians who are in fact refugees is “closer to 20,000 or 30,000.”

By inflating the number of refugees, UNRWA managed to get more funding, and that is why it has ensured that these Palestinians retain their refugee status, Lamborn told Israel Hayom.

“The Palestinians, especially those in the Gaza Strip, are not refugees. They are individuals who live under a reign of terror, violence and political corruption. The bill would ensure that the funding goes toward those who actually need humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Speaking with The Washington Free Beacon, Lamborn said, “It’s critical that we return UNRWA to its original and intended framework. UNRWA’s inflated refugee count is intended to increase the number of Palestinians that would receive the so-called ‘right of return.’ U.S. funds should only go to UNRWA to the extent that they carry out their original mission of resettling refugees.”

Congressional sources have said that the Trump administration plans to release the State Department report in the coming weeks.

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley lambasted the United Nations for using the Palestinian refugee issue to malign Israel.

“It cannot be the case that only one set of refugees throughout the world is counted in a way that causes the number to grow literally forever,” she said. “It cannot be the case that in an organization with 193 countries, the United Nations spends half of its time attacking only one country. We will not turn a blind eye to it.”

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