(JTA) — The European Union approved a $335 million contribution to UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for people it defines as Palestinian refugees.
The contribution, which will go to UNRWA‘s General Fund for core services for the period 2014-2016, was announced on Wednesday at a ceremony attended by EU Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton and UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbühl.
“The European Union remains a steadfast partner for Palestine refugees amid the uncertainty of the Middle East right now,” he said at the ceremony in Brussels, according to the EU-funded ENPI Information and Communication Support Project.
“The European Union’s continuing support to UNRWA is a key element in our strategy to promote stability in the Middle East and facilitate the parties’ quest for peace,” said Ashton.
Ashton and Krahenbühl signed a joint declaration on EU support for UNRWA — an acronym for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees — in which the European Union pledged the new sum.
The United States is also a major donor to UNRWA, having contributed close to $300 million in 2013.
Founded in 1949, UNRWA provides social, welfare and medical services to approximately five million Palestinian Arabs who were displaced during the first Israeli-Arab war of 1948, or are descended from Palestinian Arabs who were displaced in the conflict. UNRWA provides education, welfare and medical services in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
Israel’s government works with UNRWA on a number of levels, in part because the agency’s relief helps maintain stability in the region, although Israel has clashed with the agency on a number of occasions.
In 2011, Israel’s foreign ministry accused UNRWA of helping to perpetuate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by “not applying equal and universal principles,” claiming that its definition of refugee is more liberal than that of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
UNRWA officials say that in many cases they assist Palestinians who would otherwise be neglected by host governments. UNRWA has been a key conduit for aid, for instance, to Palestinians affected by the Syrian conflict.
Between 2007 and 2013, the European Union has provided more than $1.3 billion in support to UNRWA. In 2013, funding by European Union member states and institutions accounted for 43 percent of the U.N. organization’s budget, according to ENPI.