Jason Greenblatt, the White House envoy on Middle East peace, was broadly criticised on Wednesday after he delivered a withering attack on the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, calling it irredeemably flawed and urging its abolition.
The remarks at the Security Council were particularly stark as they came moments after the head of UNRWA had thanked Arab and European states for filling the funding gap created by the Trump administration's withdrawal of aid last year.
Mr Greenblatt, previously a lawyer for the Trump Organisation, unexpectedly appeared at the UN for the second time in as many weeks, taking the US chair in the council. He did so at a time when longstanding American policy on a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel appears to be eroding ahead of the White House's long-promised peace plan.
Having thanked UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl “for his contributions over the years” Mr Greenblatt then said: “But I am afraid it is time for him to accept that the UNRWA model has had its time. It is in permanent crisis mode.. an irredeemably flawed funding model. Currently running on fumes. What happens when UNRWA's bank account is empty again. UNRWA is a band aid.”
Mr Krahenbuhl, speaking via video link from Gaza, told the council that 42 countries and international institutions had increased their funding last year to cover a $446-million gap in operating costs.
“The European Union became the agency's single largest contributor in 2018 and I wish to pay special tribute also to Germany, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Japan, Norway and many others for the very generous contributions last year,” he said.
Those contributions kept open 715 schools that UNRWA runs for more than half a million Palestinian girls and boys in the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Responding to Mr Krahenbuhl's briefing and Mr Greenblatt's remarks, Germany's permanent representative to the UN, Christoph Heusgen, suggested that the US's criticism of Gaza's rulers Hamas had failed to justify its funding cuts as militancy would arguably worsen without the UN agency.
“The question I ask the US delegation is who would teach the 200,000 students who would no longer get schooling” if UNRWA did not provide it, Mr Heusgen said.
“I am afraid it would be Hamas who would teach children. This question has not been answered. I am very proud that we contribute funding to UNRWA.”
Kuwait's ambassador to the UN, Mansour Al Otaibi said: “These services, if not provided, will only worsen the lives of millions of refugee children. We are proud to be one of the many funders of UNRWA.”