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Netanyahu backs Trump’s attack on UN Palestinian refugee agency

President Trump at the Israel Museum. Jerusalem May 23, 2017 (U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the dismantlement of the United Nations agency that cares for Palestinian refugees, backing U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to cut funding unless Palestinians cooperate with his Middle East peace efforts.

Netanyahu accused the U.N. Relief and Works Agency of exploiting the plight of Palestinian refugees “in order to destroy the state of Israel,” according to a copy of his remarks at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “UNRWA must disappear from the world,” Netanyahu said.

The Israeli leader said he agrees “completely” with Trump’s Jan. 2 Twitter message in which he complained that the U.S. pays the Palestinians “hundreds of millions of dollars a year” and in return gets “no appreciation or respect.” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said later that the administration would cut off aid to UNRWA if the Palestinians refused to participate in peace talks with Israel.

The U.S., which is the biggest contributor to the agency, put a hold on a Jan. 2 payment of $125 million while the administration reviews its next steps, said two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. An UNRWA official in the Gaza Strip said the organization hadn’t been notified of any aid freeze.

Netanyahu said it was “absurd” that UNRWA was set up in 1949 exclusively to distribute aid to Palestinians, proposing that funds be provided instead through the U.N. agency that cares for all other refugee populations around the world.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the agency UNRWA must continue its activities until Israel and the Palestinians resolve their decades-long conflict.

“What perpetuates the refugee crisis is the failure of the parties to deal with the issue,” Gunness said.

Palestinian officials condemned Trump’s Twitter post, calling it “an American-Israeli coup against the peace process” and appealing to the U.N. to step in.

“This is a dramatic and clear transition to the stage of dictating solutions on the Palestinian and Arab sides through a kind of coercive surgical operation,” the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday.

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©2018 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.