Palestinian envoy warns US aid cuts threaten peace prospects

Washington: Palestinian ambassador to Washington Hossam Zomlot warned Washington on Friday against canceling all US aid to the United Nations agency serving Palestinian refugees.

The administration of President Donald Trump is expected to announce in coming weeks that it will cease all financing of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), according to several US media reports.

“We have nothing to announce at this time,” a US State Department official told AFP.

The United States, historically UNRWA’s largest donor, has drastically cut its contributions, from $350 million last year to $65 million this year.

Zomlot said that by cutting its aid, the US was “reneging on its international commitment and responsibility.”

Zomlot is the official representative in Washington of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) led by Mahmoud Abbas.

– ‘The most extreme narrative’-
“By endorsing the most extreme Israeli narrative on all issues including the rights of more than five million Palestinian refugees, the US administration has lost its status as peacemaker and is damaging not only an already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace,” Zomlot said in a statement to AFP.

The Trump administration also plans to seek a dramatic reduction in the number of Palestinians deemed eligible by the UN for refugee status, the Washington Post and the New York Times reported.

That step would aim to simplify negotiations over an eventual peace agreement by reducing the number of Palestinians granted a “right of return” into disputed areas.

“It’s not up to the US administration to define the status of Palestinian refugees,” Zomlot said.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said this week that “there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance,” even as “the Palestinians continue to bash America… I absolutely think we have to look at right of return.”

The Palestinian Authority has refused all contact with Washington since Trump announced late last year that he was unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem — which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians — as the Israeli capital, making the US one of very few countries to do so.

The United States also announced last week that it was canceling more than $200 million in bilateral aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

The US president has threatened to withhold aid until the Palestinians return to the negotiating table.

While many Israelis see the US stance as overdue after years of failed peace efforts, Palestinians say the White House is effectively taking sides and undercutting the chances of peace.