U.S. withholds $65 million from U.N. aid for Palestine

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A female member of the Palestine community shouts slogans for peace in Gaza in front of a Palestine flag, during a rally in Valparaiso, northwest of Santiago July 19, 2014. REUTERS/Eliseo Fernandez

The United States has announced Tuesday that it would withhold $65 million of the planned aid for a United Nations agency that supports refugees from Palestine. The decision comes two weeks after President Trump questioned the value of the funding, and it is aimed at encouraging reform at the agency.

In a letter, the State Department informed the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that it is withholding more than half of the $125 million aid that the U.S. had planned to provide. The administration also made clear that future donations from the U.S. would be contingent on major reforms that will be implemented by the UNRWA.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the administration would like to see some reforms be made in the agency. She also clarified that the decision is not aimed at punishing anyone and is not a punitive move against the Palestinians.

When asked if the decision to cut the UNRWA funding was related to Trump’s Jan. 2 threat to end the aid, which he broadcasted via Twitter, Nauert refused to comment.

Trump took to Twitter more than two weeks ago to criticize the U.S. aid to Palestinians. “We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” said the head of state. Trump also added that “with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

The State Department said that the remaining $60 million would still be released to the agency to prevent it from running out of money and closing down.

The UNRWA provides health care, education, and various social services to Palestinians scattered in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

“Given the long, trusted, and historic relationship between the United States and UNRWA, this reduced contribution threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavors in the Middle-East,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl.