Recent months have seen repeated attacks upon the idea of Palestinian statehood. Now, Palestinians are reeling from yet another blow. Recently released figures show that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – the body responsible for Palestinian refugees in the region – now faces a $211 million budget shortfall. This is a result of President Donald Trump's decision to slash $300 million in aid to the organisation. Despite the efforts of 42 donor countries and institutions to plug the gap, millions of people who rely on the agency for assistance in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan are now set to experience even greater hardship. They include the half million children who attend UNRWA-funded schools.
The US has justified cutting funds to the organisation by questioning its mandate and claiming that its very existence “perpetuates” the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, in the words of UNRWA commissioner Pierre Krähenbühl, “it is politician inaction, not the action of humanitarian organisations, that perpetuates wars, suffering and injustice”. The agency’s work is vital, and referring to Palestinians who have been forced to flee their homeland as anything other than refugees strikes at the foundation of their right to an independent state.
While running for re-election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to right-wing nationalist voters by promising that he would annex parts of the West Bank. It was to this statement that US ambassador to Israel David Friedman was responding last week, when he told the New York Times that he believed "Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all" of that territory. Now, the US special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt has, in turn, expressed his support of Mr Friedman's position. Such statements reveal the current US administration's clear and undeniable bias towards Israel.
This flagrant privileging of Israeli interests has led to deep and justifiable distrust of US-led mediation among the Palestinian community. It has also impeded American efforts to host an economic conference for Palestine in Bahrain next week. The initiative aimed to "facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people", highlighting the economic benefits of the Trump administration's so-called peace plan. Far from being seduced by this, the Palestinian Authority has chosen to boycott the event. Now, it has been revealed that Israel will not be attending either. With no political settlement in view, and urgently needed humanitarian aid under threat, it is crucial that the international community maintains its support of UNRWA's work. Palestinians need it now more than ever.