After US President Donald Trump halted the nation’s funding for an agency that aids Palestinian refugees, congressman are now urging him to reinstate the financial assistance, claiming it will affect basic necessities.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was formed in 1949 to aid the Palestinian refugees and their descendants with things like schools, medical clinics and social services.
“We write to urge you to continue vital US contributions to… UNRWA and bilateral assistance to the Palestinians. Continuing to freeze this aid will harm American interests by exacerbating the threats facing both peoples and reducing the United States’ ability to help the Israelis and Palestinians reach a two-state solution,” Thursday’s letter read.
More than 100 Democratic representatives signed the petition, accounting for more than half of the Democratic representation in Congress.
In January Trump announced he would not send the scheduled $125 million to UNRWA, which is funded voluntarily by several United Nations countries, as well as businesses and foundations. Instead, the administration would shave $65 million from its contribution.
The United States normally pays for one-third of the agency’s budget.
Much of this issue began when Palestine was outraged by Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
That month both Trump and U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened that the administration would cut aid if Palestine did not agree to proposed peace plans.
Trump explained his decision Jan. 2 in tweets.
…peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
However, State Department officials are denying that the decision was made to pressure Palestinians into peace talks. Instead, they say, it’s meant to encourage other countries to pick up some of the agency’s bill.
“We would like to see some reforms made,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “This is not aimed at punishing anyone.”
“We don’t believe that taking care of other nations and other people have to be solely the States’ responsibility,” she said.
The congressmen argue otherwise in their letter.
The cuts “deliberately exacerbate the hardship of the Palestinian people and reduce the ability of their government to function, which would only contribute to the benefit of those who reject engagement.”
The letter goes on to say this move will only encourage the growth of extremist groups.
“Extremist and anti-Israel groups would be all too eager to fill in the vacuum, deepening their hold in the region and expanding their destructive influence on the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.”
UNRWA is dedicated to serving 5.3 million registered Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East.