Photo Credit: Ze'ev Yanay
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipy Hotovely

by Andrew Friedman

Is there a clash brewing between Israel’s political establishment, the security establishment and  the diplomatic echelon over U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement Tuesday that he is withholding $65 million from the United States’ initial tranche donation to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) “for future consideration?”

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The United States donated $368.4 million to UNRWA in 2016, according to the organization.

On one hand, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed Trump’s decision and praised the American administration for pushing for reforms in an organization that “has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate.”

Danon’s comments followed a similar statement by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu earlier this month, in which the premier called UNRWA an “absurdity (that) must cease.”

On the other hand, however, there are indications that the IDF and defense establishment received Trump’s announcement with significantly less enthusiasm. The Hebrew-language Walla!News website reported the defense establishment was concerned that the American move could lead to an escalation in Palestinian Authority violence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The website said that in the aftermath of the announcement 158 teachers were fired from UNRWA schools in Judea and Samaria. Similar budget cuts in the past have led to violent protests against both the aid organization and against Israel.

“The road from there to terror attacks is always very short,” the website said.

The foreign ministry also appeared to be hesitant about praising the move. Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nachshon declined to comment on the issue Wednesday. But earlier this month, Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu had interceded with the U.S. administration to minimize the cut to UNRWA, and published an internal ministry document saying that crippling the organization’s finances would “not help, but on the contrary, it will [put the burden on] Israel.”

However, a spokesperson for Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the ministry backs Netanyahu’s position, stressing that UNRWA “has failed to solve the issue of Palestinian refugees. They have perpetuated the Palestinians’ fantasy of returning (to homes destroyed during the 1948 War of Independence). In doing so, they have contributed to perpetuating the conflict.

“We must differentiate between humanitarian aid that is intended to improve refugees’ lives and an organization whose essence is to perpetuate their refugee status, in contrast to international law. The American move is an important step towards changing the situation,” the spokesperson told TPS.

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