Kushner Calls for Quashing UNRWA, Resettling Palestinian Refugees

Published August 6th, 2018 - 09:36 GMT
US President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Part of his peace solution is to "disrupt" UNRWA and resettle Palestinian refugees. (AFP/ File Photo)
US President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Part of his peace solution is to "disrupt" UNRWA and resettle Palestinian refugees. (AFP/ File Photo)

Jared Kushner, Mideast adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, called for a “sincere effort to disrupt” the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees and look to resettle them in current host countries, internal emails obtained by Foreign Policy Magazine show.

“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner reportedly wrote in emails in January, according to the Aug. 3 report. The emails were addressed to a number of senior government officials, including Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt. “This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace,” he reportedly wrote.

Kushner has been tasked with brokering a peace deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. FP reported that both American and Palestinian officials have painted the push to undercut UNRWA as part of a Trump administration effort to strip Palestinian refugees of their status. The move could tip the balance of peace talks in Israel’s favor by removing the issue of Palestinians’ “right of return,” which Israel has rejected.

The Palestinian refugee population stands at around 5 million, with nearly one-third living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza. Over 174,000 Palestinian refugees currently live in Lebanon in 12 camps and gatherings.

FP reported that, according to Palestinian officials, Kushner pressured Jordan to strip the refugee status from over 2 million Palestinians registered in the country so as to eliminate the need for UNRWA to operate there. According to Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, Kushner offered instead to funnel funding previously dedicated to UNRWA to countries absorbing Palestinian populations. “All this is actually aimed at liquidating the issue of the Palestinian refugees,” Erekat said, according to FP.

However, advocating resettlement of Palestinian refugees in regional host countries, such as Lebanon, would likely cause uproar from both Palestinians and host states.

The resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has been widely rejected by various Lebanese sides. Despite many Palestinians having been born and raised in Lebanon, they do not enjoy the same rights as Lebanese citizens and the issue of absorbing the population has remained controversial due to the delicate sectarian balance maintained in the country’s politics.

The Palestinian Authority denounced the reported U.S. actions, the Associated Press said Sunday. Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said that the Trump administration was “pushing to impose facts on the ground, by realizing all of Israel’s demands.”

Abbas’ office said Saturday it would “foil conspiracies to end the Palestinian cause.”

FP quoted Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, as saying that “[Kushner said] the resettlement has to take place in the host countries and these governments can do the job that UNRWA was doing.”

While the U.S. was a key supporter of UNRWA since its establishment in 1949, the Trump administration took a drastic measure in January to cut funding to the agency.

The United States announced that it would contribute just $60 million in 2018, down from about $360 million last year.

The move prompted protests in Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

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