herald

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Horrified celebrities hit out at Trump's aid cuts for refugees

Donald Trump waves on his arrival at Davos
Donald Trump waves on his arrival at Davos

Actors Hugh Grant and Viggo Mortensen are among more than 25 celebrities and public figures expressing "horror" over US President Donald Trump's decision to cut funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, an advocacy group said yesterday.

"The real target of this lethal attack is the Palestinian people themselves," the group said in a joint statement.

"It has been launched with the clear aim of dismantling their rights, by dismantling the institution that is charged with protecting them."

Actresses Gillian Anderson, Olivia Wilde, Emma Thompson and Tilda Swinton were also among the signatories.

The letter was released by the Hoping Foundation, a London-based group that assists Palestinian children.

Frustration

Expressing frustration with a freeze in Middle East peace efforts, Mr Trump this month blamed the Palestinians for the deadlock and threatened to cut US funding.

Washington subsequently suspended a $65m (€52m) payment to UNRWA, the UN agency that provides education, health care and other social services to more than five million Palestinian refugees and their descendants scattered across the Middle East.

The United States is the largest single donor to UNRWA, and the agency has launched a global fundraising appeal in hope of closing the gap. In all, it provides hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the Palestinians.

"We stand for dignity for the most vulnerable, and we stand with Palestinian refugees who are facing a terrible moment," the statement said.

The celebrities called on the UN chief to convene a conference to establish a stable funding system for the agency.

Meanwhile, the leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups urged the US to reconsider its decision to withhold the funding to UNRWA, warning of "dire consequences" if funding is cut.

The groups said they were alarmed by the Trump administration's link between aid and political objectives.

This marks a "dangerous and striking departure from US policy on humanitarian assistance", the groups wrote in an open letter to Washington's UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, published yesterday.

Mr Trump said he would cut off funding to the Palestinians unless they agree to resume peace talks, in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Trump said at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, that the Palestinians "disrespected us a few weeks ago by not allowing our great vice president" to meet with them. Hundreds of millions of dollars "is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace".

He also said that the US is moving its embassy to Jerusalem "ahead of schedule by years", adding that he expected to have a "small version" of the embassy by sometime next year.

Refugees

The US State Department has reneged on a pledge to contribute $45m (€36m) in food aid, health services and other relief promised to Palestinian refugees this month.

Vice President Mike Pence travelled to Egypt, Jordan and Israel last weekend, but Palestinian leaders refused to meet him because of Mr Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump have found little to disagree on, a contrast with the Israeli leader's frequent clashes with former president Barack Obama.

Mr Trump's Jerusalem announcement in December angered the Palestinians and jeopardised his own administration's effort to restart peace talks.

He's also threatened to scrap Mr Obama's nuclear deal with Iran unless it's thoroughly revised, an approach the Israeli leader staunchly supports.

Earlier this month, Mr Trump issued an ultimatum to other world powers that are party to the Iran nuclear agreement, saying that he won't continue to waive sanctions lifted under the deal unless it's revised, giving the other signatories less than four months to resolve the dispute.

Limits

Mr Netanyahu told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Davos that the only way to fix the nuclear deal "is to insert real, not cosmetic, fixes that will prevent Iran's nuclearisation".

If Mr Trump decides to abandon the agreement, "then we will back you all the way", Mr Netanyahu said in the meeting.

European leaders have made clear they believe Iran is abiding by limits on its nuclear programme set out in the deal.

Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu are also likely to discuss the US peace effort, which a White House official said had hit "a bump" after Palestinian leaders shunned American envoys in protest at Mr Trump's Jerusalem announcement.

The White House still plans to unveil a plan that will encompass broader regional diplomatic efforts that include Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Mr Trump told Mr Netanyahu that Israel "will pay for" his Jerusalem announcement, an apparent acknowledgment that the Jewish state would have to make a concession in peace talks.

Mr Netanyahu said Mr Trump's decision on Jerusalem "pushes peace forward".

Promoted articles

Entertainment News