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Netanyahu visits Jordan's King Abdullah. Photo: Jordanian Royal Court via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to see a further decrease in U.S. and international funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency – UNRWA, which assists Palestinian refugees and their descendents. He suggests that some of the money be transferred directly to the Jordanian government, and has raised the idea with UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, per Israeli diplomats and UN officials.

The backdrop: Netanyahu and the Israeli government believe the UNRWA helps Palestinians maintain their demand for a "right of return" for refugees to their homes inside Israel. The Trump administration cut the U.S. contribution in half in January, citing the need for a "fundamental reexamination" of the agency's operations and the way it's funded.

Jordan hosts around three million Palestinian refugees which get services from UNRWA, the most in any country in the region. Netanyahu told Guterres that the Jordanian government should provide them with services and assistance — especially due to the fact that they are Jordanian citizens. The Jordanian government is against any steps to cease UNRWA services in Jordan or to cut international funding to the organization.

Netanyahu met today in New York with the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and discussed the possibility of further cutting U.S. funding to UNRWA. Netanyahu thinks Palestinian refugees should keep on getting humanitarian aid but wants to decrease UNRWA's role as much as possible.

Another idea Netanyahu raised in his meeting with the UN secretary general in Munich was to transfer all the funding a responsibilities from UNRWA the larger UN refugee agency — the UNHCR. According to UN officials Guterres, who once headed UNHCR, told Netanyahu this organization is mandated with repatriation of refugees to their original homes.

Guterres told Netanyahu: "Are you sure this is what you want them to do with Palestinian refugees?".

Israeli officials say that there is one part of UNRWA operations that Netanyahu wants to continue — the humanitarian services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank. Netanyahu told Trump administration officials he doesn’t want the U.S funding cuts to UNRWA to negatively affect those services.

Netanyahu's position was based on that of the IDF and other Israeli security agencies, which state that there is no alternative at the moment to UNRWA in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli security officials say UNRWA provides 1 million meals to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and no other organization can do that today. They're concerned that UNRWA's collapse might lead to a vacuum and destabilization of the security situation.

Go deeper

5 hours ago - World

Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
8 hours ago - World

Venezuela's predictable elections herald an uncertain future

The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.

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