Arab Countries to Help Palestinian Agency After Trump Cut Off Funding, Egypt Says

(Bloomberg) -- Arab countries will step in to help the UN agency serving Palestinian refugees after the U.S.’s decision to cut off funding, Egypt’s foreign minister said, as President Donald Trump’s allies seek to contain the fallout of his attempt to re-write the rules that have underpinned decades of peace talks.

The Trump administration said last month it would not make additional contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, the latest U.S. measure that critics say risks sparking violence between Palestinians and Israelis. The U.S. provided more than $364 million in funding to UNRWA in 2017.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, whose country has been a key mediator in the peace process over the past 25 years, said “commitments were made by Arab and non-Arab states to fill the gaps that have been created by the withdrawal of American support.”

The decision highlights the trade-off that traditional U.S. Arab allies have to make in dealing with the current administration. While several countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia saw their ties improve under Trump, they’re increasingly having to deal with the impact of decisions that critics say risk roiling a region struggling to recover from the turmoil that followed the Arab Spring.

In addition to the UNRWA decision, the U.S. has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, dealing a blow to Palestinian claims to the eastern part of the city as part of their future state. The administration has also said the Palestinian demand for millions of refugees and their descendants to return should be ruled out.

“There is an obligation on everyone to avoid violence to work to achieve stability and to consolidate the peace but definitely there are many pressures that are created by unilateral decisions,” Shoukry told Bloomberg TV in Cairo.

He described Egypt’s ties with the U.S. as a strategic relationship that has “endured now for four decades” but said the two nations don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye across the board.

One area where the views diverge is Syria, where forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad have encircled the last major rebel stronghold in Idlib. While the two countries have warned that an attack could lead to a humanitarian disaster, Egypt also highlighted the need to deal with militant groups in the city, a concern shared by Russia and Iran, Assad’s main allies.

“It is time for the international community to really focus on what is in the best interests of the Syrian people but also recognize that there are conditions, that there are organizations that continue to try through the use of terror, through the use of military ability to perpetuate this conflict,” Shoukry said.

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