Jared Kushner Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Palestinians have denounced reported US attempts to undercut a UN agency that serves several million Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

The US-based Foreign Policy magazine has reported that Jared Kushner, Middle East adviser to President Donald Trump, called in an email this year for a “sincere effort to disrupt” the agency. “It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA. This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace,” he wrote to Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt.

In previous US-led negotiations, the fate of Palestinian refugees and occupied Jerusalem were to be settled in a peace deal. Palestinian officials now fear that the Trump administration is moving unilaterally to settle these issues in Israel’s favour.

Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, alleged Sunday that the Trump administration is “pushing to impose facts on the ground, by realising all of Israel’s demands.”

Abbas’ office said Saturday it would “foil conspiracies to end the Palestinian cause.”

Kushner has also pressed the Jordan to strip its more than two million registered Palestinians of their refugee status so that UNRWA would no longer need to operate there, Foreign Policy reported.

Abbas reacted strongly to the report, with his office saying Kushner’s attempts, and disrespectful comments about UNRWA, were proof Washington is plotting to push the Palestinian refugee issue off the negotiations table. Abbas’ office said on Saturday it would “foil conspiracies to end the Palestinian cause.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, told the magazine, “[Kushner said] the resettlement has to take place in the host countries and these governments can do the job that UNRWA was doing.” She said the Trump administration wanted Arab Gulf states to cover the costs Jordan might incur in the process. “They want to take a really irresponsible, dangerous decision and the whole region will suffer.”

The US, the biggest donor to UNRWA since the agency was formed in 1949, cut its aid to $60 million (Dh220 million) from a promised $365 million this year, leading to agency axing more than 250 jobs last month.

Jordan has also condemned attempts to take away the refugee status of these Palestinians. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned of the serious consequences of UNRWA’s continued financial deficit, and stressed the important role it plays in the lives of millions of Palestinians. Safadi and UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl discussed steps to be taken as the agency continues with efforts to provide health, educational, and relief services to the refugees in its five areas of operation in the region.

Palestinian alienation with the US has continued to grow as millions of dollars in US assistance remains on hold and appears likely to be cut entirely. With just two months left in the current budget year, less than half of the planned $251 million in US aid for the Palestinians in 2018 — $92.8 million — has been released, according to the government’s online tracker, www.foreignassistance.gov.

The Trump administration is staffing up a Middle East policy team at the White House in anticipation of unveiling its long awaited but largely mysterious Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. The Palestinian leadership has been openly hostile to any proposal from the Trump administration, citing a pro-Israel bias, notably after Trump recognised occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv in May. Since the Palestinian National Authority and Abbas broke off contact after the announcement on occupied Jerusalem, the US negotiating team has been talking to independent Palestinian experts.

For the plan to succeed or even survive the starting gate, it will need at least initial buy-in from both Israel and the Palestinians as well as from the Gulf Arab states, which officials say will be asked to substantially bankroll its economic portion. Arab officials have thus far adopted a wait-and-see approach.