The Palestinians have called the United States’ decision to end its decades of funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees an attack on the Palestinian people, and accused Washington of trying to remove sensitive core issues from the negotiating table as it “prepares” a Middle East peace initiative. But, increasingly, it appears that Washington is not really seeking to get the Palestinian leadership back to the table. It is, in fact, trying to help Israel normalise and even legalise the occupation and end the conflict on its own terms. As the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said, the US is “pre-empting and prejudging” issues reserved for permanent status talks. He has a point. The current US administration is no longer demanding the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement with the Israeli regime.

Palestinian officials cannot be blamed for believing Washington is moving unilaterally to settle these issues in the Israeli regime’s favour, especially after the US unilaterally recognised occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December last year and moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to the occupied city in May.

True to form, the Israeli occupation regime has welcomed the US moves against UNRWA and applauded the cut in US aid to the agency, saying the organisation is “one of the central problems ...”

UNRWA was established after the war surrounding the establishment of Israel in 1948 to aid the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes by Jewish terrorist groups such as the Irgun and the Hagannah. Today, the agency provides education, health care and social services to some five million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The agency is also a major employer in the Occupied Territories, which have endured decades of sieges, wars and economic blockades. Such is the success of the agency that the programmes it runs have a proven track record in creating one of the most successful human development processes and results in the Middle East.

Jeopardising the fate of UNRWA will only fuel radicalism and harm prospects of peace in the region.

The Palestinians know their cause is just and have refused to take the Israeli occupation lying down. They have kept the flame of statehood alive.

And any just solution to the Palestinian question now must also include the status of refugees.