US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Tuesday questioned the figures on “Palestinian refugees” being offered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), suggesting they are significantly inflated.
Speaking at the pro-Israel think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Haley was asked by FDD President Cliff May about the US relationship with UNRWA, following the restrictions imposed on the agency by the White House and statements from President Trump and others in the administration questioning its viability.
“UNRWA can stay there, and we will be a donor if it reforms what it does,” Ambassador Haley said. “If it goes and makes sure that they’re not doing those teachings [of hate] in textbooks, if they actually change the number of refugees to an accurate account. We will look back at partnering them. But otherwise, you’re just molding an organization that has flaws into another organization, and that’s not fixing the problem. I think we have to go further than that.”
UNWRA claims to provide services to five million “Palestinian refugees,” the vast majority of whom were not yet born in 1948. Most are descendants from individuals who fled their homes in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
May inquired about Haley’s definition of “who is a Palestinian.”
“Right now, you have this interesting and kind of illogical situation where somebody who is a Palestinian, living in a territory he considers to be Palestine, can also say, ‘And I’m a refugee from Palestine. Here I am in Ramallah, I’m a refugee from Palestine,'” May argued, wondering: “And why isn’t the Palestinian Authority, which claims to be governing these people, assuming some responsibility as opposed to saying no, there’s a UN agency that does it, it’s funded by the donor community, which means us and a few others, we don’t need to worry about this, we can worry about other things.”
“It’s bigger than that, even,” the ambassador responded. “When you look at UNRWA, there’s a couple of issues there. First of all, you’re looking at the fact that, yes, there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance, but more importantly, the Palestinians continue to bash America. This is the government, not the people, not the Palestinian people.
“So the government continues to bash America. They have their hand out wanting UNRWA money. We were supposed to […] give them $130 million. We cut it in half, saying that they really needed to reform and fix the things they were doing, because they teach anti-Israeli and anti-American things in their textbooks. They are not necessarily doing things that would cause peace…
“So instead of the $130 million, we give them $65 million. They didn’t say thank you. UNRWA had them protest in the streets that we didn’t give more. So at the last Security Council meeting we had on the Palestinian issue and UNRWA, I went and said, ‘You are all so quick to wag your finger at us for not giving more. Where is Saudi Arabia? Where is United Arab Emirates? Where is Kuwait? Where are all of those countries? Do they not care enough about Palestinians to go and give money to make sure these kids are taken care of?”
At this point the audience applauded the ambassador.
She continued: “If the region doesn’t invest in those areas, why are we being faulted for not investing in those areas? They have to have skin in the game. They have to – they’re the ones that fight me every day on Israel issues. But yet they don’t give a penny when it comes to – any more than they have to. They give tokens, and then we still are the largest donor of UNRWA at the same time.
“So it goes to a second set. Our job is not to take the beatings that you give us, saying we’re not kind to Palestinians and then turn around pay for them. Our job is to make sure that, look, we’ll be a partner with you, but only on a partner basis of something you believe in. So you show us you care, and then we’ll come back and decide if we’re going to give.”