The Trump administration’s reported decision to freeze over $125 million in aid to the Palestinian refugee relief agency UNRWA is incredibly dangerous, counterproductive and vindictive. Withholding this aid could have dire consequences for over 1.5 million Palestinian refugees and for Israel’s security.
According to reports, the US has already frozen the aid payment due January 1, and is contemplating cutting up to $180 million total — which would constitute almost half the total given to the agency in 2016. Clearly, this move is intended to punish Palestinian leaders for their vehement opposition to the president’s irresponsible decision last month to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital prior to a peace agreement.
Instead of taking responsibility for a provocative and unnecessary decision that has undermined its own peace efforts, the Trump administration is doubling down on chaos. By slashing funding to an agency that helps feed, clothe, house and educate over 1.5 million Palestinian refugees, the White House is cruelly harming some of the region’s most vulnerable and neglected people. The decision will worsen the humanitarian situation of refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza — and increase the prospects for unrest, extremism and violence that could threaten Israelis.
The Israeli security establishment has long made clear that UNRWA, while an imperfect institution, contributes to greater stability and security in the refugee camps. In an op-ed this week, former IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. (ret.) Peter Lerner wrote that “By weakening UNWRA and, consequently, the Palestinian population, even further, without a real administrative alternative, I believe that Palestinians will be even more susceptible to extremism and violence. This will not contribute to security or stability in the region.”
Once again, the Trump administration is playing with fire in the Middle East. Continuing to act without basic regard for the security of Israelis or basic respect for the Palestinian people will further exacerbate an already deadly conflict — leaving Israelis and Palestinians to pay the price.