On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the U.S. decision to stop funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which it accused of “irredeemably flawed” operations and perpetuating a crisis that lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, The Washington Post reports.
The UNRWA’s commissioner rejected the accusations blaming political leaders for the failure to resolve the decades-old refugee crisis. Netanyahu, on the other hand, said Israel has taken in hundreds of thousands of Jews uprooted from homes in the Middle East and Europe.
“This is not what is happening with the Palestinians,” he said. “There they created a unique institution, 70 years ago, not to absorb the refugees but to perpetuate them.”
The agency was created in 1948 to serve the 700,000 Palestinians who had fled the war surrounding Israel’s creation. Today, UNRWA serves millions of Palestinians across the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, providing them with health care, education and social services.
The Israeli prime minister further noted that the funds withheld by the U.S. should instead be used to “genuinely help rehabilitate” the refugees. He also accused the UN agency of presenting much higher figures of refugees than the real ones.
UNRWA again rejected Netanyahu’s accusations and stressed that a political solution between Israel and the Palestinians was necessary to resolve the refugee issue.
“We are not mandated to deal with the politics,” said UNRWA’s commissioner, Pierre Kraehenbuehl. “It is the utter failure of the parties and the international community to resolve this conflict that explains why Palestine refugees are still refugees 70 years on. It has nothing to do with a UNRWA perpetuation of that situation.”
The U.S., which has in the past been the agency’s biggest donor, cut funding for the body on Friday, triggering a reaction from UNRWA that the move could hurt its operations, including a network of schools that serves over 500,000 students.
Kraehenbuehl pointed out that he is making efforts to find new sources of funding to keep the schools and other services running.
“The investment in young boys and girls… (and) in opportunities for their future is an investment in stability and therefore preserves the opportunities for peace,” he said on Sunday.