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America's cut to aid in Palestine promises greater regional instability

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Donald Trump's Administration has severly cut funding to aid organisations supporting Palestine (screenshot via YouTube).

At the moment, the Palestinian people need global support. Cutting funding is not the answer to resolving its problems.

FOREIGN AID remains essential for Palestinian civil society, community peacebuilding and the implementation of important programs. The Palestinian organisations, however, have been dealing with the most severe financial crisis since Trump administration ended humanitarian contributions to the United Nations Relief and Working Agency (UNRWA) and assistance to Palestinians in 2018, total $65 million, contrasted with $359.3 million in 2017.

This cut included $231.532 million of 2017 bilateral economic assistance that was originally intended for the West Bank and Gaza, including $25 million for East Jerusalem hospitals. The USAID also ended its assistance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and prevented Palestinians from participating in conflict management and mitigation programs. This program involves the Israelis and Palestinians generally receiving $10 million annually.

Refugees and aid influence

The question of the Palestinian refugees has been a crucial issue in the Palestine/Israel conflict since 1948. However, Trump’s Administration had already taken a final and permanent decision to cut aid to UNRWA. The UNRWA was established by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 302(IV) of 8 December 1949 to carry out direct relief and work programs for Palestine refugees. It was established responding to the dire Palestinian humanitarian refugee crisis that followed the establishment of Israel in 1948. Israel forced more than 750,000 Palestinians to leave their homes.

Foreign aid, however, had been a fundamental and essential instrument of U.S. foreign policy in Palestine/Israel "peace process". Historically, there has been sympathy with the Palestinians in the UN Assembly Genera, and the U.S.'s previous Obama Administration had never cut its contributions to UNRWA.

In 2016, the U.S. contributed much greater amounts to UNRWA. President Trump’s administration, however, wanted other countries to step up and contribute more after Palestine suspended political communications with Trump’s Administration. In January 2018, President Trump’s communicated his own anger and decision through Twitter‘we pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of Dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect’

To this day, UNRWA manages schools, youth centres, rations and clinic hospitals as it strives to deliver vital services to refugees. UNRWA still delivers human development, relief and humanitarian services to more than five million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from the UN Member States. International donors including the U.S. also assisted not only UNRWA but also many Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to continue to play a significant role in promoting processes of conflict resolution and human rights.

Foreign aid to UNRWA and CSOs also aimed to support human rights, tolerance and conflict resolution programs. UNRWA, however, faces regular financial crisis, owing to a number of political challenges and intervention from donors’ countries. 

The Palestinians are convinced that the Trump Administration’s decision to cut funds to Palestinians in general and UNRWA, in particular, is as a part of the what so-called “deal of the century”. UNRWA has been dealing with the most severe financial crisis since its establishment after the U.S. dramatically reduced payment to UNRWA and assistance to Palestinians.

UNRWA, however, was created with a remit to deliver services and assistance wherever refugees are located until their problem is solved. The U.S. has been the largest donor responsible for nearly a third of the budget to UNRWA, which offers to assist Palestinians refugees in its five areas of operation in the Middle East. 

Challenges ahead

Since this cut, which has already left a very serious impact on already impoverished social and economic circumstances, local Palestinian CSOs also have already suffered as well. Generally, foreign aid is essential for the implementation of crucial programs and their effectiveness and impact.

This cut has increased challenges of all sectors including the CSOs to respond to new massive challenges as they struggle to meet citizens’ needs and demands efficiently, not least because resources are sorely lacking after years of blockades. The UNRWA, for example, had to launch a global campaign called "Dignity is priceless" to increase international community engagement and Arab countries’ contributions towards the financial crisis.  

Trump’s unilateral decision may contribute to escalating violence, deepening hatred and the flames of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. The Israeli occupation has already considered further actions to challenge the UNRWA existence and operations. The mayor of occupation in Jerusalem, for example, threatened to shut the offices of UNRWA in Jerusalem.

However, there have been a number of Israeli security experts and officials that believe cuts could deepen the economic crisis in Palestinian society, pushing thousands of Palestinians out of work, which could lead to violence.

This funding cut has had a very serious impact on local Palestinians and refugees in particular. It has increased challenges in all sectors, including CSOs, causing them to struggle to meet citizens’ needs and demands efficiently. UNRWA, for example, cannot implement its programs or operations without international aid and assistance.

Dr Ibrahim Natil is a lecturer at Dublin City University and a Fellow at Institute for International Conflict ResolutionHe is a human rights campaigner and was a nominee for the Tällberg Foundation Global Leadership Prize, 2016. You can follow Dr Natil on Twitter @Natilibrahim.

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