FACT CHECK: Did Nikki Haley Threaten To Cut Off Aid To Palestinian Refugees?
In a recent editorial claiming that Israel is “dig[ging] a grave for the two-state solution,” The New York Times’ editorial board alleged that Nikki Haley “threatened to cut off aid to Palestinian refugees.”
While Haley seemed to give contradictory responses during her press conference, it is accurate to say that one of those answers contained a threat to cut aid to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.
Following the passage of United Nations General Assembly Resolution ES-10/L.22 on Dec. 21, declaring the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “null and void,” President Donald Trump suggested that the United States should cease giving money to “the Palestinians” in the event that they were “no longer willing to talk peace.” However, the president did not specify which organization or organizations should have their funding cut.
In its editorial, the Times was referring to U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s answer to a question asked by Joseph Klein of the Canada Free Press:
KLEIN: Will the U.S. maintain its present level of funding of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in light of the General Assembly’s Jerusalem resolution, pushed by the Palestinians, and the Palestinian U.N. representative’s threat to unleash “all the weapons we have on the U.N?”
HALEY: I think the president has basically said that he doesn’t want to give any additional funding, or stop funding, until the Palestinians are agreeing to come back to the negotiating table, and what we saw with the resolution was not helpful to the situation. We’re trying to move for a peace process, but if that doesn’t happen, the president is not going to continue to fund that situation.
It is unclear whether Haley is referring to the Palestinian Authority, as the president did, or the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). However, given that Klein’s question directly asked about UNRWA, and given that Haley did not mention any other institution whose funding would be cut, it is reasonable to assume that she was referring to UNRWA.
Currently, the United States is the largest contributor to UNRWA, providing $368 million of the agency’s $1.2 billion budget in 2016. According to the agency, most of that money goes to humanitarian services like education and healthcare, with some of the money allocated to nonspecific categories such as “Increased Awareness and Respect for the Rights of the Palestinian Refugees” and “Provision of Effective Leadership and Direction for Achieving Strategic Objectives.”
Although the Times editorial is technically accurate in saying that Haley “threatened to cut off aid to Palestinian refugees,” it is somewhat misleading in two respects.
First, the editorial implied that Haley threatened an imminent and unconditional cutoff of aid. In fact, she made clear that the United States would not immediately “stop funding,” but would cut off aid in the future if the Palestinians did not “come back to the negotiating table.”
Second, the phrase “Palestinian refugees” used in the editorial refers to UNRWA’s technical definition of “Palestinian refugee” that uses a much broader definition of the term “refugee” than the commonly understood meaning of the term.
While the United Nations has an agency for refugees (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR]), Palestinian refugees are given aid through UNRWA, which is a separate organization. According to UNRWA, the definition of a Palestinian refugee is “a person whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”
However, UNRWA also states that the “descendants of Palestinian refugee males, including adopted children, are eligible for registration.” UNRWA does not identify any specific number of generations after which the descendants of Palestinian refugees will no longer be able to register, effectively allowing Palestinian refugees to pass on their refugee status to their descendants indefinitely.
The UNHCR, which deals with most other refugees around the world, does not allow refugees to pass on their refugee status to descendants. Since the events creating “Palestinian refugee” status occurred seventy years ago, the vast majority of persons coming within the UNRWA definition would not be “refugees” under the generally understood definition of the term.