On Feb. 5 Nabil Shaath, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, announced that Japan had begun the process of recognizing Palestine’s right to independent statehood.
According to Shaath, the Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono would begin to collect signatures from Japanese Members of Parliament supporting Palestinian statehood, and would also be increasing Japan’s diplomatic presence in Ramallah. Japan has also pledged to increase funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the agency in charge of aid distribution to Palestinian refugees.
This came in the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would effectively halve their donation to UNRWA, not long after Trump’s highly controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The U.S.’ Losing Leadership
Trump’s justification for the cut on Twitter was that America had no incentive to aid Palestinians since they were “no longer willing to talk peace,” and that Palestinians had shown “no appreciation or respect” for America and its donations. He insisted that UNRWA needed to make “reforms” before the aid was reinstated, but did not specify what those were.
Japan is far from alone in having responded sharply to Trump’s provocations in the Middle East. For better or for worse, UNRWA is now a vehicle through which states declare their position on Palestine.
While the agency is still in financial trouble following the American cut, other nations have made impressive pledges to try and fill the gap. The Belgian government recently pledged €19 million ($23.5 million) to UNRWA over the next three years, and a number of other EU member states fast-trackedmulti-million dollar donations to plug the immediate shortfall.
Japan’s donation to UNRWA is not unexpected. Dr Yara Hawari, a Policy Fellow at Al Shabaka, the Palestinian policy think-tank, told Al Bawaba:
“Japan is UNRWA's 7th largest donor out of a total of 57 countries. Reports that they will boost this aid is not surprising, particularly as the Commissioner General of UNRWA, Pierre Krahenbuhl, visited Japan earlier this year following the US funding cut threats, where he met with government officials and Japanese press. He praised Japan for their financial support of UNRWA and urged the country to continue investing in the agency and its mandate.”
However, in a political climate where the American President seems determined to push Palestine into peace talks in the weakest possible position, other nations now have an opportunity to expand their diplomatic influence in the Middle East by assuming a greater role in instigating a peace process.