On 25 June, the United Nations held a conference with the goal of procuring emergency aid from member states for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). According to the group’s director Pierre Krahenbuhl the organization is struggling to provide basic necessities and services, including sanitation and medical care.
UNRWA’s cash shortage is the direct result of President Trump’s decision in January to substantially cut American funding to the organization. The United States has been the largest donor to UNRWA, footing a third of the total UNRWA budget annually. Trump decided to slash the allotment to UNRWA from almost $400 million to just above $60 million. At the time of the decision to decrease U.S. funding, Trump offered his rationale. In a series of tweets, Trump said: "... We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect... With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
Al Jazeera's UN correspondent James Bays, reporting from New York said member states have for months been trying to fill UNRWA's budget gap. "It appears there are new funds coming from the European Union, from Mexico, from Sweden and from Belgium - and other countries like the UK, are bringing forward some of their funding," Bays said.
Back in March, with a budget deficit looming, UNRWA organized a fundraising summit in Rome.
The participants managed to gain pledges of $100 million. Even if those pledges were filled, it would not replace the lack of U.S. funding.
The total amounts collected earlier this week are “nowhere near the shortfall of $250m, and the UN is still desperately looking for further funding," Bays reported.
According to director Krahenbuhl, Trump’s decision has landed UNRWA in it’s biggest crisis since its creation in 1949.
A glimmer of hope is on the horizon for the Palestinian relief organization. Understanding that the institution may very well be on the brink of collapse, several nations have committed to increasing their contributions in the long term. India increased its contributions by a factor of five. "I am pleased to acknowledge India for increasing its contribution from $1 million to $5 million and making this a new annual level," said director Krahenbuhl in a recent announcement. Qatar announced the largest pledge of $50 million and “renewed its commitment” to the Palestinian cause, promising to help ensure basic services are maintained through UNRWA. With any luck, the trend of countries increasing their support will fill the current deficit.
It is interesting to note the current UNRWA crisis is the latest instance of president Trump’s foreign policy decisions shaking up the status quo. From the Korean Peninsula to Iran, and now the Middle East, Trump is not letting things run as usual.
Is this necessarily a good thing? Not at all. Each complicated scenario will have to be assessed on its own merits.
The UNRWA budget cuts, like other policy moves, have triggered a shift on issues - many of which haven’t changed course for a very long time.