Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, has quietly been trying to do away with the U.N. relief agency that has provided food and essential services to millions of Palestinian refugees for decades, according to internal emails obtained by Foreign Policy.
By – Colum Lynch & Robbie Gramer
His initiative is part of a broader push by the Trump administration and its allies in Congress to strip these Palestinians of their refugee status in the region and take their issue off the table in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, according to both American and Palestinian officials. At least two bills now making their way through Congress address the issue.
Kushner, whom Trump has charged with solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been reluctant to speak publicly about any aspect of his Middle East diplomacy. A peace plan he’s been working on with other U.S. officials for some 18 months has been one of Washington’s most closely held documents.
But his position on the refugee issue and his animus toward the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is evident in internal emails written by Kushner and others earlier this year.
“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner wrote about the agency in one of those emails, dated Jan. 11 and addressed to several other senior 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 wrote.
The United States has helped fund UNRWA since it was formed in 1949 to provide relief for Palestinians displaced from their homes following the establishment of the State of Israel and ensuing international war. Previous administrations have viewed the agency as a critical contributor to stability in the region.
But many Israel supporters in the United States today see UNRWA as part of an international infrastructure that has artificially kept the refugee issue alive and kindled hopes among the exiled Palestinians that they might someday return home—a possibility Israel flatly rules out.
Critics of the agency point in particular to its policy of granting refugee status not just to those who fled Mandatory Palestine 70 years ago but to their descendants as well—accounting that puts the refugee population at around 5 million, nearly one-third of whom live in camps across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza.
By trying to unwind UNRWA, the Trump administration appears ready to reset the terms of the Palestinian refugee issue in Israel’s favor—as it did on another key issue in December, when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
In the same January email, Kushner wrote: “Our goal can’t be to keep things stable and as they are. … Sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there.”
Read more: From 2017/12/06