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Trump to demand only a 10th of Palestinian refugees keep their status: Report

Israeli news organisation says US set to announce it will not accept that refugee status is passed from one generation to the next
UNRWA was founded in 1949 after the first Arab-Israel war, which led to 700,000 Palestinians being forced to leave their homes or flee (Reuters)

The administration of US President Donald Trump is set to announce a dramatic change in policy with regard to the United Nations' agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, the Israel Television News Company has reported.

The news organisation said on Saturday that a report due to be published at the beginning of September by the administration will cap the number of recognised Palestinian refugees at half a million - around a tenth of the present UN number.

UNRWA was founded in 1949 after the first Arab-Israel war, which led to 700,000 Palestinians being forced to leave their homes or flee. It helps about five million Palestinian refugees, a figure that includes descendants of those displaced by the fighting.

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The Israel Television News Company, formerly the news department of Israel's Channel 2, said the US is set to announce that it will not accept UNRWA's definition of a Palestinian refugee, which lays down that refugee status is passed from one generation to the next.

The news organisation also said that Washington intends to freeze funding for UNRWA in the West Bank and to ask Israel to consider limiting its activities.

The US, the largest donor to UNRWA, transferred $364m to the agency in 2017.

Earlier this month it was reported that Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, had put pressure on Jordan to strip the refugee status of more than two million registered Palestinians residing there.

According to a report in Foreign Policy, a US magazine, Kushner raised the issue with Jordanian officials in the region during his visit there in June.

Following that report, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee, said Kushner's move was part of a broader effort by him and the Trump administration to render UNRWA irrelevant and halt its work.

"[Kushner said] the resettlement has to take place in the host countries and these governments can do the job that UNRWA was doing," Ashrawi said.

In January, the US announced it would withhold $65m of $125m that it had planned to send to UNRWA, which is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN states, including those from the United States.

'Cheap blackmail'

Saturday's report follows an announcement on Friday that the Trump administration was to cut more than $200m in aid for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A US State Department official said that the decision, made "at the direction of the president," came after a review of aid programmes to the Palestinian territories.

The funding would "now address high-priority projects elsewhere," it added.

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Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the PLO, said the move amounted to an "admission of the true intentions behind American aid policy of intervening in the internal affairs of other peoples".

US aid "is not a gift to our people but a duty of the international community to take responsibility for the continuation of Israeli occupation, preventing the development of the Palestinian economy and society," he said. 

By slashing aid to the Palestinians, the US "once again reaffirms its disregard for its international commitments," Erekat added.

Ashrawi accused the US of using "cheap blackmail as a political tool".

"The Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion. The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale," she said.

The State Department cited Hamas's control of Gaza as part of its justification for reallocating the funds.

The decision is almost certain to exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. More than two million Palestinians are packed into the Gaza Strip, which suffers deep economic hardships.