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Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Wednesday urged the Trump administration to release a classified report about how many Palestinian refugees receive aid from the U.N.’s Palestinian refugee agency — an agency from which the U.S. withdrew funding in 2018 and that President-elect Joe Biden may restore.
“Very important that the Trump administration declassify the report that provides a current estimate of the number of Palestinian refugees who are receiving support,” Haley tweeted. “This goes to the heart of speaking hard truths in the name of moving peace forward.”
Haley linked to a New York Post column that refers to a report by the State Department, purportedly compiled during the Obama administration, which shows how many of those receiving aid from the UNRWA — the U.N.’s refugee agency specifically for displaced Palestinians — were actually displaced in 1948.
It taps into a long-standing argument of critics of the controversial agency that UNRWA no longer serves its original purpose, and instead operates using a broad definition — including descendants of Palestinian refugees, as well as people who have become residents in other countries and are no longer displaced.
UNRWA provides health care, education, financial assistance, and food to 5 million people in the Middle East, including Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The New York Times reported in 2018 that nearly the entire population of the Gaza Strip receives aid from UNRWA and the agency acts as a “de facto government” in the area.
“The outgoing Team Trump should issue an updated, unclassified report that provides a current estimate of the number of people receiving UNRWA assistance today who were personally displaced in 1948, aren’t residing within the borders of the Palestinian Authority and aren’t citizens or permanent residents of another country, such as Jordan,” the column, written by Jonathan Schanzer and Richard Goldberg — both members of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
They argue that the “Palestinian refugee problem is much, much smaller than UNRWA claims it to be.”
The U.S. ended its more than $300 million a year in funding for UNRWA in 2018, over concerns not only of its purpose but over claims that it encourages anti-Israel sentiment. Israel has accused the organization of perpetuating a “right to return” for refugees to Israel. UNRWA denies it promotes such a right.
Haley, who has been strongly critical of the agency, was reported to be strongly behind the push to pull the funding at the time.
It was one of a number of U.N. agencies from which the U.S. either withdrew or defunded over concerns that they were promoting interests opposite to those of the U.S. Biden has indicated that his administration will reverse those moves.
On UNRWA, he has not explicitly said he would restore funding, but his campaign website said he will “take immediate steps to restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, consistent with U.S. law, including assistance to refugees,” which would suggest UNRWA funding is on the table.