Thursday , September 20 2018

Do your homework Haley – Numbers, facts talk for themselves: Otaibi

Permanent representative to the UN Mansour Al-Otaibi addressing the Security Council session on the Middle East

UNITED NATIONS, July 25, (Agencies): US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Tuesday slammed Arab and Islamic states for talking a lot about supporting the Palestinians but not giving more money to help, calling out countries like Egypt, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Haley listed how much those countries, along with Algeria, Tunisia, Pakistan, Oman, Iran and Turkey, had given — or not given — to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which helps Palestinian refugees. Washington, long the biggest donor, cut its aid to $60 million from a promised $365 million this year.

“No group of countries is more generous with their words than the Palestinians’ Arab neighbors, and other OIC member states,” Haley told a UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East, citing the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. “But all of the words spoken here in New York do not feed, clothe, or educate a single Palestinian child. All they do is get the international community riled up,” she said.

Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour said Haley had insulted US allies “in an arrogant way.” Haley also called out China and Russia for talking “a big game about the Palestinian cause” but providing only $350,000 and $2 million respectively to UNRWA in 2017.

China’s UN Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu told the council: “We have no intention of competing with any other countries.” Haley said it was time for the “regional states in particular to step up.” According to IRIN, a nonprofit that reports on humanitarian issues, the UAE and Kuwait were ranked in the top five most generous aid donors compared with national income globally in 2017, while the United States came in at 16. “Sometimes the numbers and facts talk for themselves,” said Kuwait’s UN Ambassador Mansour al- Otaibi. UAE UN Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh agreed with Haley that real action was needed to assist the Palestinian people. “With our total donation of more than $125 million just last year, we believe that we are doing our part to address the immediate needs of the Palestinians,” she said.

US President Donald Trump withheld UNRWA aid after questioning its value and saying the Palestinians  needed to agree to renew peace talks with Israel, while the State Department said UNRWA needed to make unspecified reforms.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser, said late last month that Washington would announce its Middle East peace plan soon. “It is now gone about a year since we discussed this here and we were informed about plans and we haven’t seen it yet, Sweden’s UN Ambassador Olof Skoog, president of the Security Council for July, told reporters. “I think there is a problem that there’s no credible plan on the table.” The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees announced Wednesday it was cutting more than 250 jobs in the Palestinian territories after the United States held back hundreds of millions in aid.

In total, 154 employees in the occupied West Bank and 113 in the Gaza Strip will be let go, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement. More than 500 other full-time staff will be offered part-time contracts, the statement added. The job cuts were the first since the US announced it would only provide the agency with $60 million this year, down from $360 million the previous year. Gunness’s statement said the US cut represented an “existential threat” to UNRWA, which had been trying to raise the money from other donors. Amal al-Batsh, deputy head of UNRWA’s staff union, condemned the cuts. “The decisions are unfair and will adversely affect employees and their families,” she told AFP.

Hundreds of people rallied outside UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza City to protest against the decision to axe jobs, as the union called for a sit-in. One man tried to set himself on fire but fellow protesters rushed to help him and put out the fl ames, an AFP journalist at the scene said. The UNRWA staff union also called for a general strike by employees to be held on Thursday in Gaza. The agency provides services to more than three million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East and employs more than 20,000 people, the vast majority Palestinians. Gunness’s statement said UNRWA was seeking to “protect core services, including education, health and relief,” as well as ensure the schools they run in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere open on time after the summer holidays.

“The decision of the US to cut $300 million in funding to UNRWA this year has been described by our commissioner general as an existential threat to UNRWA,” it said. “As we continue to pursue every avenue of support to overcome a severe financial crisis, UNRWA, its dedicated staff and the refugees have only one option: to face up to this situation together and preserve the most important work we do.”

In January, US President Donald Trump linked the cutting of Palestinian aid to the decision by President Mahmud Abbas to refuse to talk with his administration. The Palestinian leadership froze ties with the White House after it recognised the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and accuses Trump’s administration of blatant bias in favour of Israel. “We pay the Palestinians hundred of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump tweeted on Jan 2, shortly before the funding freeze was announced. “With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”.

UNRWA was set up after the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel, which saw more than 700,000 Palestinians flee or be expelled from their homes. Israeli politicians have long criticised the agency’s existence, arguing it perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. UNRWA leadership and Palestinian officials say its presence is necessary until a permanent solution can be found for the refugees. The Trump administration’s long-awaited plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace is “dead upon arrival,” the Palestinian UN ambassador said Tuesday.

Riyad Mansour told reporters that after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Dec 6 the United States “lost the qualification to be the only party to supervise the political process.” Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, who have been drafting the administration’s plan, told the Arabic language Al-Quds newspaper last month that they will present it soon, with or without input from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Mansour said the US is “eager” for Palestinian engagement on the plan but “we are not going to engage.”

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