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World

UAE significantly slashed funding for Palestinian refugee agency in 2020

  • The United Arab Emirates drastically reduced funding to the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in 2020, as it signed a U.S-brokered normalisation accord with Israel.
  • The Gulf state contributed $51.8 million to the refugee agency in 2018 and 2019, but it reduced that contribution by an unprecedented margin in 2020, down to a mere $1 million.
Updated 08 Feb 2021
UNRWA provides education, healthcare and other vital services to some 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. Source: Associated Press
UNRWA provides education, healthcare and other vital services to some 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. Source: Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates drastically reduced funding to the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in 2020, as it signed a U.S-brokered normalisation accord with Israel.

The UNRWA provides education, healthcare and other vital services to nearly 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, which predominantly comprise of descendants of the original 700,000 Palestinians who fled (or were driven out of) Israel, during their conflict in 1948.

The Gulf state contributed $51.8 million to the refugee agency in 2018 and 2019, but it reduced that contribution by an unprecedented margin in 2020, down to a mere $1 million.

According to CJ Werleman, a Global Correspondent for the Byline Times and Inside Arabia, "UAE has not only reduced its funding for the Palestinian refugee agency but also is secretly colluding with Israel to eliminate it".

Werleman articulated that "[Given that] UNWRA is responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, the move would forever shut the door on 5.7 million refugees returning home, which, of course, is exactly what Israel is hoping to achieve".

Last year, in lieu of the Trump Administration's Israel-centric Middle East policy, the UAE normalised ties with Israel, breaking a long-standing consensus in the Arab world that diplomatic recognition should only come in exchange for concessions in the Palestinian peace process.

The Palestinian Authority viewed these agreements as a betrayal to their cause.

Critics of the UNRWA state that it perpetuates the refugee problem created by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, as Israel adamantly rejects the idea of a right of return, which if fully implemented would leave the country with a Palestinian majority.

The Trump Administration cut off all funding to the UNRWA in 2018, previously giving the agency about $360 million a year.

Werleman stated that Israel made its intention to "starve" the UNWRA of funding abundantly clear, with Prime Minister Netanyahu going so far as to say that the refugee agency "must disappear from this world", and hailing its defunding under the Trump Administration.

Werleman concluded that "in more recent times, the UAE has synchronised its policies towards the Palestinians in return for US fighter jets and access to Israeli markets and military intelligence", citing their incrementally transactionary relationship with the United States and Israel for their lacklustre support of the Palestinian cause.

Last month, the Biden administration announced that it would restore aid to the Palestinians, including to refugees, and says that it will work to revive peace negotiations, with the two warring sides having not held substantive peace talks since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assumed office in 2009.

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