US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley questioned UN statistics on the number of Palestinian refugees and ruled out the right of return, in the latest move by the Trump administration to challenge how aid is given to the Palestinians.
In comments on Tuesday to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a research institute in Washington that often sympathizes with Israel, Haley agreed with a source that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was exaggerating the numbers of Palestinian refugees. She suggested that the Trump administration would consider officially rejecting the the Palestinian claim that all refugees who were displaced between 1947 and 1948 and their descendants should be allowed to return to modern day Israel after a final peace agreement.
“You’re looking at the fact that, yes, there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance,” Haley said, adding that the Trump White House would not restore its previous funding levels unless the body made dramatic changes.
“We will be a donor if [UNRWA] reforms what it does … if they actually change the number of refugees to an accurate account, we will look back at partnering them,” she said, adding that “the Palestinians continue to bash America” and yet “they have their hand out wanting UNRWA money.”
The United States earlier this year cut its aid to UNRWA to $60 million after pledging $350 million a year.
“If we actually change the number of refugees to an exact number, we will reconsider our partnership,” Haley said.
UNRWA says it provides services to some 5 million Palestinian refugees – mostly descendants of refugees who were displaced and expelled from Palestine during the 1948 war that established Israel on the ruins of the Palestinian people.
Haley said that other Arab states in the Middle East needed to pressure the Palestinians to change course if there were ever to be a final peace accord.
“We have to have them come to the table for a peace agreement,” Haley said. “That’s only going to happen if the region pushes them for that to happen.”