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A pupil at a UNRWA school. Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty Images

After months of review, the Trump administration has announced it will stop all funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which in recent years reached $350 million annually.

Why it matters: The U.S. was the main funder of UNRWA for years. Many in the State Department, Pentagon and intelligence community had reservations about a total funding cut, fearing it would further destabilize Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank. The move to stop all U.S. funding to UNRWA was led by senior adviser Jared Kushner and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

  • The cutting of U.S. aid to UNRWA will make the continuation of the agency's operations in the Middle East almost impossible.
  • The decision might also lead to serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation of Palestinian refugees due to the fact that UNRWA provides food, medical services and education to millions of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
  • The U.S. will now try to transfer aid to Palestinian refugees through other channels.

The Trump administration statement said the decision to cut funding to UNRWA was made because the U.S. "was no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs." The statement also said most of the international community has not shown sufficient response to U.S. requests for burden sharing.

  • In its statement, the Trump administration also criticized UNRWA for its "unsustainable and flawed business model and fiscal practices" mainly the agency's "endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries".  – is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.    
  • The statement did not say anything about the Trump administration's policy regarding the Palestinian refugee issue — one of the core issues in every final status negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • A report on Israel's Channel 2 News claimed last week that the Trump administration will announce it's taking the refugee issue "off the table."

A senior U.S. official told me those reports were false and stressed there is no change in U.S. policy on the Palestinian refugees issue at this time:

"We continue to study and evaluate alternatives for an equitable resolution of all refugee issues."

The U.S. official also said the Trump administration is not trying to dismantle UNRWA and is not planning on asking Israel to stop its operations in the West Bank.  

What's next: Despite the decision to stop funding to UNRWA, the Trump administration is going to try and find way to give aid to Palestinian refugees through different UN agencies or through host countries.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is supportive of the U.S. move, but many in the Israeli defense establishment are worried it will lead to unrest in the West Bank and Gaza.
  • Officials in Netanyahu's office tell me Israel thinks the U.S. aid should be transferred to other organizations so that it could be spent for the benefit of the Palestinian population "and not for perpetuating the Palestinian refugee ethos."

The Palestinians, who have cut off talks with the U.S., see the U.S. decision on UNRWA as a further attempt to push them into accepting the peace plan the White House has been working on for months.

Go deeper

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

5 hours ago - World

Zelensky questions U.S. warnings of "imminent" invasion in Biden call

Biden and Zelensky at the White House last October. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty

President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a back-and-forth in their call this evening about just how "imminent" the threat of a Russian invasion might be, according to three sources briefed on the call.

Why it matters: Biden has said previously that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin will probably "move in" to Ukraine, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday afternoon that "an invasion could come at any time."