The loss of UN money would have a catastrophic affect on Middle East security in both the short and long term.
Has the US, and Israel for that matter, thought this through? Do they really want 270,000 children in Gaza attending Hamas-run schools? Does Washington really know what it is doing?
Having survived the recent cabinet reshuffle the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, is confronted with the biggest headache of her short ministerial career: the fallout of the US intention to cut funding to UNRWA, which constitutes one of the most serious challenges to UK policies in the Middle East.
Donald Trump’s threat to cut financial assistance to the UN agency specifically responsible for Palestinian refugees will be a disaster not only for the refugees but also for Israel and neighboring countries. It does not advance US interests either. Provoked by the Palestinian rejection of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, it takes the notion cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face to a completely new diplomatic level. Although a final decision by the US is still pending, the loss of the regular subvention of $350m for UNRWA would be catastrophic for the region, with immense military and strategic implications for the US and its allies, including the UK.
If UNRWA were defunded by the US in this dramatic, sudden, and unplanned way, it would be forced to suspend within a few months most of its services to nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees. Half a million children in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon would be without schools, consigning them to the already volatile streets at a time when extremists are in full recruitment mode.
While cuts in education may be the most immediate and dramatic, the losses would not stop there. Nine million health consultations which UNRWA doctors provide each year would cease, 1.7 million refugees who lack basic needs would be without food and cash assistance and 40,000 refugees with disabilities would be without support. Further, UNRWA recreational activities for 200,000 children would cease and the 38,000 microfinance clients working to provide an independent livelihood for their families would be without loans. On top of this, 30,000 teaching staff, doctors, nurses, social workers, sanitation laborers and engineers employed by UNRWA would be out of a job.
The impact of all these cuts on the political stability in the Middle East is incalculable.