Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have encouraged the US to slash Washington’s donation to the budget of UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees, Haaretz reported on Monday. However, Israeli security officials fear that this could spark a new Palestinian uprising, mainly in Gaza.
The decision of the US administration run by Donald Trump to cut economic aid to the Palestinians, reduce funding for UNRWA and possibly redefine the status of most Palestinian refugees has the potential to increase tension considerably.
According to Netanyahu’s office, the continued existence of UNRWA perpetuates the refugee issue, which Israel would like to disappear altogether. International law makes it clear that all refugees, and the Palestinians are no exception, have the right to return to their homeland. Israel’s membership of the UN was and remains conditional upon the Palestinian refugees being allowed to return home. The US move to redefine them would reduce the number of Palestinian refugees from the current 5 million to around 500,000 people.
Haaretz said that touching these three issues would “have potentially disastrous effects,” citing remarks and warnings made to the Israeli cabinet by defence officials. This, the newspaper reported, explains Netanyahu’s unusual silence about Trump’s moves on the refugee issue.
The Israeli Prime Minister normally celebrates whatever Trump does or says about the Palestinians, as happened with the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the US Embassy move to the Holy City. The Israeli leader also praised the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal.