Thursday, August 30, 2018

US envoy Haley questions number of Palestinian refugees - Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff

by Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff

U.S. will consider restoring funds to aid agency UNRWA only if it conducts true reforms, including changing Palestinian refugee number "to an accurate account," says U.S. envoy to the U.N. Nikki Haley

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley | Photo: Reuters

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Tuesday appeared to question the world body's count of Palestinian refugees, the latest in a series of steps by the Trump administration challenging how relief aid is delivered to the Palestinians.

Speaking at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank often sympathetic to Israel, Haley agreed with a questioner who suggested that UNRWA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, overcounts their number.

The United States earlier this year cut its aid to UNWRA to $60 million from a promised $350 million for the year.

"We will be a donor if it [UNRWA] reforms what it does. ... If they actually change the number of refugees to an accurate account, we will look back at partnering them," Haley said.

UNWRA says it supports about 5 million Palestinian refugees. However, the vast majority are descendants of individuals who fled Palestine in the war that surrounded the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

 Haley also questioned the emotionally charged issue of the "right of return" to Israel, claimed by the Palestinians as part of any eventual peace settlement.

Asked whether the right of return should be "off the table," Haley replied: "I do agree with that, and I think we have to look at this in terms of what's happening [with refugees] in Syria, what's happening in Venezuela. ... So I absolutely think we have to look at the right of return."

U.S. President Donald Trump and his aides say they want to improve the Palestinians' plight, as well as start negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

But under Trump, Washington has taken a number of actions that have alienated the Palestinians, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The status of Jerusalem – home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions – is one of the biggest obstacles to any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United Nations says the status of the ancient city can only be resolved by negotiations.

Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff


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