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Netanyahu: UN's Palestinian Refugee Agency Should Be 'Thing of the Past'


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Jan. 7, 2018.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet Sunday the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees perpetuates the problem and should be shut down.

Netanyahu complained that the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) is focused solely on Palestinian refugees and that its funding should instead be shifted to the U.N.’s blanket refugee agency.

WATCH: A call to U.N. aid

Netanyahu Calls for Closure of UN Aid Agency for Palestinians
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"It also perpetuates the right of return narrative in order to eliminate the state of Israel," the prime minister said. "Therefore UNRWA must become a thing of the past."

The agency says there are 5 million refugees eligible for its services.

They are the Palestinians who left their homes during the war surrounding the establishment of Israel in 1948, or their descendants. Today, more than 1.5 million Palestinians live in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Refugee schoolchildren walk with their mothers on the first day of the new school year at one of the UNRWA schools at a Palestinian refugee camp al Wehdat, in Amman, Jordan.
Refugee schoolchildren walk with their mothers on the first day of the new school year at one of the UNRWA schools at a Palestinian refugee camp al Wehdat, in Amman, Jordan.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the agency will continue its work until there is a "just and lasting solution" for the refugees.

"What perpetuates the refugee crisis is the failure of the parties to deal with the issue. This needs to be resolved by the parties to the conflict in the context of peace talks, based on U.N. resolutions and international law, and requires the active engagement by the international community," Gunness said in a statement.

Efforts to push forward Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been stalled for several years, and the prospects were further complicated last month with U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The decision was a break from longstanding U.S. policy and the path advocated by the United Nations, which sees Jerusalem’s status as an issue to be resolved through negotiation.

The Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state under a two-state solution.

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Dec. 22, 2017.
President Donald Trump speaks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Dec. 22, 2017.

​Trump also threatened last week to cut aid to the Palestinians, and Netanyahu offered him praise in his own comments Sunday.

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi rejected Trump’s threat, accusing him of sabotaging the peace process and then blaming the Palestinians for "the consequences of his own irresponsible actions."

Ashrawi said further the Palestinians "will not be blackmailed."

Trump did not specify exactly how much funding was involved in his threat.

The U.S. provides about one-third of UNRWA’s funding and provided more than $350 million to the agency in 2016.

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