An Israeli government agency privately warned the U.S. against President Trump’s controversial decision to cut aid for Palestinian refugees, according to a document obtained by TYT under the Freedom of Information Act.
The document, a diplomatic cable marked “sensitive,” was sent from the American embassy in Tel Aviv to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on January 3, 2018. It describes an unnamed Israeli Ministry of Defense official expressing concern about any attempts to cut funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
“Speaking off the record, our contact cited particular concern with any move to reduce UNRWA funding in Gaza,” the document states. “He said that while the existence of UNRWA was a political poke in the eye to Israel, it nonetheless provided valuable humanitarian relief in Gaza.”
The cable also suggests that worsening the Palestinian economy could exacerbate violence. “COGAT has long held the view that economic stability in Gaza is linked to its political and security stability,” the document also states.
One day prior to the date of the cable, on January 2, 2018, Trump tweeted, “We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect … why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
Two weeks after the tweet, the U.S. withheld $65 million of a planned $125 million payment to UNRWA. By August, the Trump administration announced that it would cut all U.S. funding for the agency.
UNRWA has been a lifeline for the millions of Palestinian refugees who depend on it for schools, healthcare, food, and other social services.
In September, the World Bank warned that the economy of Gaza was in “free fall,” noting that half the population lives in poverty. Youth unemployment is over 70%.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, told TYT, “Cutting UNRWA’s assistance, medical care and education for Palestinians will only escalate their grievances and anger, however much Trump and Netanyahu’s goal is to bring them to their knees to acquiesce to giving up their rights and land.”
Whitson’s concern about escalating anger appears to be borne out by the State Department document.
“The Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) assesses that Gaza’s security situation will continue to worsen as the economic situation progressively deteriorates, a COGAT contact told us [in] January. He highlighted continued rocket activity from Gaza and said the ‘dire’ economic situation was placing significant pressures on the general population.”
COGAT is a component of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and is tasked with mediating between the Israeli government and Palestinian officials. The cable advises that COGAT’s view of the funding may not represent that of the entire government. In September, the Times of Israel reported that former U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro said Israel never requested UNRWA funding cuts during the Obama presidency.
Whitson said, “The international community, through UNRWA’s operations, has been footing Israel’s bill for the Palestinian refugee population for decades; under international law, Israel as the occupier is responsible for the well-being of the occupied population, which it has long failed to provide for.”