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CNN, Clare Foran and Elise Labott, September 1, 2018

The United States is ending all funding to the United Nations agency tasked with supporting Palestinian refugees, the US State Department said Friday, describing the body as "irredeemably flawed."

The United States has long been the biggest single donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA, donating more than $350 million to the agency in 2017.

The agency offers educational, health and social services across the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees. It educates about 500,000 children in nearly 700 schools and its doctors see more than 9 million patients in nearly 150 primary health clinics every year.

In January this year, the United States said it would withhold $65 million, from an initial installment of $125 million it was expected to hand over to UNRWA at the start of the year. The US said it wanted UNRWA to reform and believed other countries should increase the amounts they contributed to the agency.

"When we made a US contribution of $60 million in January, we made it clear that the United States was no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA's costs that we had assumed for many years," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Friday.

"Several countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Sweden, Qatar, and the UAE have shown leadership in addressing this problem, but the overall international response has not been sufficient."

Nauert criticized the agency's business model and fiscal practices as "unsustainable" and having been in "crisis mode" for many years.

"The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation," she said. "We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business."

Chris Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, voiced "deep regret" over the US decision and pushed back against its criticism of UNRWA's work.

"We reject in the strongest possible terms the criticism that UNRWA's schools, health centers, and emergency assistance programs are 'irredeemably flawed,'" he said.

"These very programs have a proven track record in creating one of the most successful human development processes and results in the Middle East. The international state community, our donors and host countries have consistently praised UNRWA for its achievements and standards."

Foreign Policy first reported the Trump administration's decision to end funding for the UN agency, which was established by the UN General Assembly in 1949.

A senior administration official told CNN the decision was made at a meeting between Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but that US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had also been pushing for the move.

The Trump administration will also call for a large reduction in the number of Palestinians considered to be refugees, the administration official and a regional diplomat briefed on the decision told CNN.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment on the decision.

A senior administration official criticized the agency in a statement to CNN earlier this month, saying that it "has perpetuated and exacerbated the refugee crisis and must be changed so the Palestinian people can reach their full potential."

The statement followed a Foreign Policy report in early August that revealed leaked emails in which Kushner pressed fellow officials to engage in "an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA."


Removal of Palestinians' refugee status would effectively mean they would lose the "right of return" to homes that are now in Israel and reclaim lost property -- a move that would have enormous significance for the approximately 5.3 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA.

During the Arab-Israeli War of 1948/49, which followed the establishment of the State of Israel, about 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from or fled their homes, a period the Palestinians call "Nakba," meaning catastrophe.

Most Palestinians consider the right of return to be an inalienable right of the Palestinian people. It has long been considered what is called a "final status" issue in peace talks, an acknowledgment that it is among the toughest areas for Israelis and Palestinians to reach agreement.

This would be the second final status issue that the US President has sought to take off the table, the first being Jerusalem.

For decades, US policy was to avoid declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, as the Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as their capital and its final status was supposed to be left to negotiations. But Trump upended that policy in December when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Anat Berko, an Israeli lawmaker with the governing Likud party, told CNN she supported the US move on UNRWA and said she hoped other countries would follow suit.

"An end to UNRWA will bring an end to the 'refugee forever' status. We cannot solve any conflict with this definition of refugees. Humanitarian aid -- yes. But UNRWA -- no," Berko said.

Al-Awda, a Florida-based NGO that advocates for the right of return, talks of the "fundamental, inalienable, historical, legal, individual and collective rights of all Palestinian refugees to return to their original towns, villages and lands anywhere in Palestine from which they were expelled."

Israeli media outlets have reported concerns in some quarters that serious cuts to UNRWA's budget could exacerbate tensions on the ground in the Palestinian territories and, by impacting the provision of basic public services, strengthen the hand of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.


News that the Trump administration will end all funding to UNRWA comes on the heels of Trump ordering the United States to cut $200 million in aid to Palestinians.

CNN reported last week that the President directed the State Department to withdraw $200 million in aid that was originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza, according to a senior State Department official.

Trump orders US to strip $200 million in aid from Palestinians

Nauert told reporters Tuesday that a review ordered by Trump earlier this year of US assistance to the Palestinians had established that that money "is not in the best interests of the US national interest and also at this time does not provide value to the US taxpayer."

Ahmad Shami, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, accused the Trump administration in a statement earlier this week of seeking to strip millions of Palestinians of their refugee status on top of cutting aid funds.

"After using humanitarian aid to blackmail and pressure the Palestinian leadership to submit to the empty plan known as 'the deal of the century,' the Trump administration plans to commit an immoral scandal against Palestinian refugees by giving itself the right to abolish the historical rights of Palestinian refugees without any legitimacy," he said.

"This is a clear looting of our humanity leading to more chaos in the region."

Shami called on the international community to "stop the gambling schema of Trump and Netanyahu to endorse colonization, apartheid, and denial of Palestinian fundamental rights."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has frequently said the work done by UNRWA should be picked up by the UN's main refugee agency, the UNHCR.

Netanyahu told foreign journalists in January: "The perpetuation of the dream of bringing the descendants of refugees back to Jaffa is what sustains this conflict. UNRWA is part of the problem, not part of the solution."

Jaffa was one of the largest Arab towns in British Mandate Palestine that would become part of Israel in 1948.

But Gunness told CNN that the UN agency fundamentally rejected Netanyahu's criticism.

"It is not UNRWA that perpetuates the conflict, it is the conflict that perpetuates UNRWA; it is the failure of the political parties through negotiations to produce an overall peace agreement and thereby resolve the refugee crisis," said Gunness. "That is what makes UNRWA's existence necessary."


Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said this week that the agency's 711 schools in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, were opening on time for their 526,000 students despite its current "unprecedented" $217 million deficit.

"For decades, donors have recognized that UNRWA is a force multiplier for stability in one of the most the volatile regions around the world," he wrote in an op-ed on the UNRWA website.

Krähenbühl noted the "regrettable" decision by the Trump administration early this year to cut its planned funding to UNRWA, but also paid tribute to the "strong solidarity" shown by the broader international community whose increased or new donations had gone some way to filling the gap.

The German government pledged Friday to increase significantly its funding to UNRWA, Reuters news agency reported, adding that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had made clear that other nations would also need to step in to meet the existing shortfall.

The United States in 2016 agreed to a new 10-year military aid package for Israel worth $38 billion over 10 years, according to congressional and administration sources. That was an increase on an approximately $30 billion decade-long deal that expires this year.


Foreign affairs panel also advances bill that would
sanction foreign governments and individuals
for providing financial and material support to Hamas
The Times of Israel,  Eric Cortellessa  5 November 2017,

Taylor Force, murdered in Israel by a Palestinian terrorist in March 2016, gave his name to the Taylor Force Act, legislation proposing to halt US aid to the Palestinian Authority until the latter stops paying stipends to terrorists and their families. (Facebook)

Taylor Force was an MBA student at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and a West Point graduate who was visiting Israel in March 2016 when he was killed. Force was from Lubbock, Texas. His parents live in South Carolina.

WASHINGTON — The US House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday unanimously passed the Taylor Force Act, legislation that would cut US funding to the Palestinian Authority unless it discontinues its practice of paying monthly stipends to the families of terrorists who kill Israelis.

The legislation includes three exceptions, allowing for US funding to Palestinian water and childhood vaccination programs and to East Jerusalem hospitals.

In the same session, US lawmakers also passed two other bills designed to confront Palestinian terrorism.

The Hamas Human Shields Prevention Act, which cleared the panel with broad bipartisan support, would sanction foreign governments, entities, and individuals for providing financial and material support to the terrorist group Hamas, while the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act would also impose sanctions on foreign governments and entities that support Palestinian terrorism.

All three measures are now set to advance to the full chamber for a vote from every member of the legislative body.

“Since 2003, it has been Palestinian law to reward Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails with a monthly paycheck,” the House foreign affairs panel chairman Ed Royce said in a statement. “Palestinian leadership also pays the families of Palestinian prisoners and suicide bombers. These policies incentivize terrorism.”

The Republican lawmaker from California added: “With this legislation, we are forcing the PA to choose between US assistance and these morally reprehensible policies.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee in August passed the Taylor Force Act, which is named after a former US army officer who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Tel Aviv in March 2016.

Taylor Force, murdered in Israel by a Palestinian terrorist in March 2016, gave his name to the Taylor Force Act, legislation proposing to halt US aid to the Palestinian Authority until the latter stops paying stipends to terrorists and their families. (Facebook)

In September, it was included in a foreign operations bill that is slated for a vote by the full chamber in December. It is expected to pass.

US President Donald Trump has not yet stated whether or not he would sign the bill into law, though a White House official told The Times of Israel in July that the president supports its principal objective.

On Tuesday, an Israeli woman, whose husband and other relatives were brutally stabbed to death in a West Bank settlement this summer, lamented to Trump’s Middle East peace envoy that the family of the killer would be compensated by the PA.

If passed by Congress and signed into law, the measure would halt US funding to the PA until Ramallah stops paying stipends to Palestinian terrorists and their families.

Israel, too, has demanded that the PA stop paying these wages via intermediary organizations.

But the Palestine Liberation Organization has condemned this legislation, saying shortly after its Senate committee passage that it was “unacceptable” and would violate Palestinians’ human rights.



Bill would suspend US support to Palestinian Authority
until it stops paying stipends to terrorists and their families

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the Palestinian Authority praised Force’s killer as a “heroic martyr.” He estimated that the Palestinian Authority has paid $144 million in “martyr payments” over the years.

Times of Israel By Richard Lardner, 15 September 2017

Taylor Force, murdered in Israel by a Palestinian terrorist in March 2016, gave his name to the Taylor Force Act, legislation proposing to halt US aid to the Palestinian Authority until the latter stops paying stipends to terrorists and their families. (Facebook)

Taylor Force was an MBA student at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and a West Point graduate who was visiting Israel in March 2016 when he was killed. Force was from Lubbock, Texas. His parents live in South Carolina.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration declared its firm support Thursday for a bill that would suspend US financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority until it ends what critics have described as a long-standing practice of rewarding Palestinians who kill Americans and Israelis.

The State Department announcement comes nearly six weeks after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed the measure. The legislation, which is named after an American who was stabbed to death in Israel by a Palestinian, reflects bipartisan outrage over what lawmakers have termed a “pay to slay” program endorsed by the Palestinian Authority.

“The Trump administration strongly supports the Taylor Force Act, which is a consequence of Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization’s policy of paying terrorists and their families,” the State Department said.

The department added that President Donald Trump “raised the need to end any part of this program that incentivizes violence against Israeli and American citizens with President Mahmoud Abbas last May in both Washington and Bethlehem.”

The Palestinian Authority has disputed the accusations and called the bill misinformed.

Husam Zomlot, chief representative of the Palestinian General Delegation to the US, said last month that the program is more than 50 years old and is aimed at giving support to families “who lost their breadwinners to the atrocities of the occupation, the vast majority of whom are unduly arrested or killed by Israel.”

One of the bill’s main sponsors, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the Palestinian Authority has created monetary incentives for acts of terrorism by paying monthly stipends of as much as $3,500 to Palestinians who commit acts of violence and to their families.

The amount of the payment depends on the length of the jail sentence they receive for the crime, he said.

Corker is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Palestinians have argued that ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem — lands that Palestinians seek for their state — is key to defeating terrorism.

Steven J. Rosen, Justice, Winter 2014-2015

American defenders of Israel generally see the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as one of the worst UN agencies, an organization that harbors terrorists, teaches militant conflict with Israel and anti-Semitism in its schools, and perpetuates the Palestinian refugee issue as a source of tension.

Yet the paradox is that the United States has consistently been the largest single-state donor to UNRWA.

Therefore it is not surprising that UNRWA's critics have turned repeatedly to Congress, where they know there is bipartisan support for Israel, to fight UNRWA's practices. About once every year, a pro-Israel organization announces an anti-UNRWA initiative on Capitol Hill. With equal frequency, members of Congress issue press statements proposing legislation and sense-of-Congress resolutions targeting UNRWA's ties to terrorism, anti-Semitism in its textbooks, and UNRWA policies that perpetuate rather than resolve the refugee issue. Seemingly, UNRWA is an important item on the foreign policy agenda of the United States Congress.

In its most important actions, Congress has been a steady and reliable supporter of UNRWA.

From all of this, the casual observer might imagine Congress to be a bulwark against UNRWA. But in reality, this is a mistaken impression. In its most important actions, Congress has in fact been a steady and reliable supporter of UNRWA, from the beginning of American aid to UNRWA in 1950, up to the present. As Karen Abu Zayd, former (2005-2009) Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said in April 2012:

even those who scrutinise [UNRWA] most closely and challenge it most severely are those who also ensure that its programmes receive adequate funding... [Despite persistent threats to decrease or eliminate funding, from some members of the US Congress acting according to what they believe is the interest of Israel,... there is little actual threat to its survival as an agency.[2]

In each of UNRWA's 64 years, Congress has appropriated aid to UNRWA in steadily rising amounts. The cumulative total of American assistance to UNRWA has now reached $5 billion.[3] Nor has Congress used America's status as the leading donor to impose reforms of UNRWA's deplorable practices. While the House and Senate have passed numerous statutory limitations and conditions on aid to the Palestinian Authority,[4] in all these years only a single obligatory limitation has been placed on appropriations to UNRWA—Section 301(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act, conditioning aid on UNRWA's non-involvement with terrorists.

This is not because individual members have failed to propose other legislative initiatives and sense-of-Congress resolutions. Recent proposals included the UNRWA Integrity Act (2006), the UNRWA Humanitarian Accountability Act (2010), the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act (2011), the Palestine Accountability Act (2013), the Palestinian and United Nations Anti-Terrorism Act (2014), and other proposals. (See Appendix of Congressional Resolutions on UNRWA.)

But the little-known truth is that with the sole exception of Section 301(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act, not a single one of these UNRWA reform initiatives has had majority support in the house of Congress in which it was introduced, and only Section 301(c) was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President. In fact, only one of the other proposals had as many as 142 House sponsors out of the 435 members in the House of Representatives. Most of the proposals had 30 or fewer supporters. None in the Senate had as many as twelve sponsors. And, most importantly, every single proposed UNRWA reform bill or sense-of-Congress resolution in either house of Congress, except Section 301(c), died after a few months and was not enacted (details in the Appendix).

How could this be? How is it possible that UNRWA, an agency so odious to Israel's friends, enjoys such immunity in the United States Congress? Why did all these efforts to do something about UNRWA die in Congress without enactment? There are several reasons.


The first and most immediate problem, well known to the lead sponsors of the proposed legislation but hidden from the wider public, is that none of the failed initiatives had real support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the central political arm of the pro- Israel lobby. Except in the solitary case of Section 301(c), AIPAC did not activate its staff and lay activist system to build support for any of these resolutions among Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.

None of the failed UNRWA reform initiatives had real support from AIPAC.

In fact, AIPAC keeps its distance from anti-UNRWA initiatives, never opposing them, lest their Congressional and organizational sponsors—and some AIPAC donors— take offence, but not gathering co-sponsors either. AIPAC would certainly never come out and say, "Hands off UNRWA." It would never acknowledge, even privately, that this is its implicit policy, but it is.

The reason is certainly not that AIPAC has any great love for UNRWA, or is ignorant of the destructive role that UNRWA plays. I served as a senior policy official of AIPAC for two and a half decades, and I can testify that its lay and professional leadership are as frustrated as anyone in the wider pro-Israel community that so little is being done about the UNRWA cancer. But AIPAC knows from bitter experience that if it yields to the temptation to join an initiative against UNRWA, it will be in an untenable position, out on a limb that will be sawed off by the Government of Israel.


This seemingly adversarial relationship between UNRWA and Israel obscures a deeper reality well known to those most directly involved on the ground. Deeply flawed as the agency is, Israel depends on UNRWA as an element promoting stability in the West Bank and Gaza, a vital strategic objective for the Jewish State.

Israel depends on UNRWA as an element promoting stability in the West Bank and Gaza.

UNRWA's role has been critical since Israel first gained control of the territories almost five decades ago in the June1967, Six Day War. On June 12, 1967, shortly after the fighting stopped, Israel's U.N. Ambassador, Michael Comay, and UNRWA's Commissioner-General, Lawrence Michelmore, signed a formal agreement establishing recognition by the State of Israel of UNRWA's activity in the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli government committed itself to "nonintervention" in the U.N. agency's affairs in the humanitarian sphere, reserving the right to intervene only where there are threats to national security. Israel agreed to facilitate the work of the Agency rather than impede it.[5]

On many occasions since that time, the Government of Israel has reaffirmed its commitment to the Comay-Michelmore agreement and to cooperation with UNRWA. For example, in November 2009, at a major event marking the 60th anniversary of UNRWA, the Israeli representative underscored Israel's continued commitment to the understandings expressed in the 1967 Comay-Michelmore ... Letters. Israel would continue to do its utmost to facilitate UNRWA's operations, subject to the upholding of its own security. Israel was especially devoted to maintaining the close coordination that existed between the Agency and Israeli officials in the field.[6]

On the same occasion, UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Abu Zayd affirmed the excellent degree of cooperation that UNRWA enjoyed with the Israeli authorities.[7]

The epicenter of Israel's cooperation with UNRWA is Israel's Ministry of Defense and the IDF, and specifically the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which has the day-to-day task of coordinating civil and security affairs in the West Bank and Gaza. COGAT attempts to maintain a good working relationship with UNRWA, mainly to help the agency perform its task of providing vital services to the Palestinian Arabs, services that the IDF might have to provide if UNRWA were suddenly removed. As UNRWA Commissioner-General Abu Zayd observed,

Eliminating UNRWA would serve only to deprive Palestine refugees of the basic public services... offered by the Agency. Such services would then have to be provided by another body; in the case of West Bank and Gaza that would be the occupying power, Israel. This explains the official Israeli government support for the role of UNRWA, and the reason there is a modicum of cooperation in allowing basic provision of goods and services by UNRWA in the occupied Palestinian territory.[8]

Israel's "surprisingly good relations with UNRWA" were explained by a former deputy head of COGAT, retired Brigadier General Baruch Spiegel:

The Israeli government supports [UNRWA] educational programs because it is strongly averse to the other alternative: Palestinian children attending Hamas schools in both Gaza and the West Bank. Jerusalem believes that, for all of Hamas' penetration of the UNRWA school system, children educated in UNRWA's schools are indoctrinated to a lesser extent with anti-Israel and anti- Semitic hatred than those attending Hamas' own schools, which appear to be little more than hotbeds for terrorism and violence... Forced to choose between allowing Hamas to carry out [post-conflict] reconstruction or work with UNRWA, Israeli officials prefer to partner with UNRWA, hoping this would prevent the Islamist terror group from obtaining dual-use construction materials.... Jerusalem seems perfectly content to... leave negotiations over the final settlement of the refugee problem until such time as a lasting peace settlement is reached.[9]

The Congressional Research Service reports that "Israeli officials ... assert that UNRWA plays a valuable role by providing stability and serving as the eyes and ears of th7..e international community in Gaza. They generally characterize UNRWA's continued presence as preferable to the uncertain alternative that might emerge if UNRWA were removed from the picture."[10] (The State Department expressed a similar view in its 2015 budget submission to Congress: "UNRWA plays a stabilizing role in the Middle East through its assistance programs, serving as an important counterweight to extremist elements."[11])

Israel's dependence on UNRWA makes it leery of anti-UNRWA activity by its friends in Western countries. In January 2010, the president of Canada's Treasury Board announced that the Harper government would redirect its Palestinian aid away from UNRWA and toward specific projects of the Palestinian Authority, much to the satisfaction of pro-Israel organizations in the country.[12] But six months later, in August 2010, the Canadian International Development 7Agency (CIDA) reported that, "In discussions with ... Israel ..., Canada has been asked to resume funding the [UNRWA] General Fund." A critic of the pro-Israel groups sneered, "The lobby is working in a vacuum with very poor information, pushing for actions that the Israeli government feels is not in its interest."[13]

In 2012, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal was reportedly told by the Israelis to leave UNRWA funding alone.

A similar case occurred in the Netherlands in December 2011, when Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said that Holland would "thoroughly review" its policy toward UNRWA because its definition of a refugee is "worrisome" and creates a "big obstacle to peace."[14] Three months later, a member of the Dutch parliament, who was working to condition or cut funding to UNRWA, reported that the Foreign Minister told him that "Jerusalem" asked him to leave the UNRWA funding alone.[15]

I can confirm that, during my long service at AIPAC, this was also our experience. Independent pro-Israel voices would initiate an action on Capitol Hill to cut or condition UNRWA aid; then the State Department would call Jerusalem to demand that Israel call off the dogs (what is known in the trade as "The Call"); and soon we at AIPAC would get a call from the Israeli Embassy in Washington to urge restraint. After a few such experiences, it is not surprising that my colleagues in the Legislative Department became unreceptive when well-intentioned people called the organization to propose new plans to reform UNRWA.


Israel's strange partnership with UNRWA is probably the most important reason Congress has "spared the rod," but it is not the only reason.

Inflaming the Region: Most Democrats, and some Republicans, are reluctant to take on UNRWA, because they fear it would inflame the already explosive situation in the Middle East. They see that the "Right of Return," symbolized by UNRWA's very existence, is a sacred issue to Palestinians. Even the comparatively moderate President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, said: "The Palestinian refugees' right to return to the 1948 borders is a personal right, like marriage... No country, authority, organization, or even Abu Mazen... can deny anyone his right to return."[16] Some members fear stoking anger in the Arab "street" and provoking anti-American rage, if they touch the "third rail" issue of the refugees.

Final Status Issue: Members of Congress who believe that an Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement is attainable hope that UNRWA's imperfections will no longer matter when the refugee issue that keeps the organization alive is resolved in a conflict-ending agreement. These members seek "evenhandedness," which they think the President and the Secretary of State will require in order to have credibility as mediators to bring such an agreement to fruition.

Sympathy for the Underdog: There is also a pervasive sentiment that the Palestinians, especially the ones that UNRWA considers to be "refugees," are the people who landed at the bottom in the Middle East, so they deserve sympathy as the "underdog." If UNRWA's clients sometimes behave badly, they should be given a discount, because they are the victims. Sure, UNRWA is not perfect, but members do not want to seem ungenerous toward those less fortunate, or indifferent to their plight.

Hidden in the Weeds: Another barrier to taking on UNRWA is the fact that its annual appropriation is buried in the massive State Department account, which includes literally thousands of items, of which UNRWA is only a tiny part. The overworked members of the various relevant congressional State and Foreign Operations, Middle East, and International Organization committees that oversee UNRWA authorizations and appropriations cannot possibly get involved in all the controversies hidden in these encyclopedic State Department presentations.

UNRWA is part of the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account, managed by the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). PRM's annual written Congressional Presentations on MRA—one of many State submissions to Congress each year—typically run about 40 pages, covering hundreds of programs.[17] And in these omnibus documents, the scant references to UNRWA are usually confined to a few barely noticeable paragraphs. When UNRWA is mentioned, the references depict admirable, compassionate public servants delivering vital social services to the poor, the homeless, and the desperate. Many members do not want to waste time taking issue with this, when there are so many more controversies that must be debated just to get through the MRA account.

Rescue in Syria: Since 2011, UNRWA's rescue work in Syria has become another reason that it is exempted from serious scrutiny on Capitol Hill. There is wide bipartisan sympathy for UNRWA's undeniably vital work trying to protect the 270,000 desperate Syrian-Palestinians who have been displaced by the Assad regime's brutal aggression against civilians.[18] In the face of this tragedy, there are probably more members who want to increase financial support to UNRWA, than there are to curtail it.

UNRWA Lobby in Washington: In 2011, UNRWA opened a lobbying arm in Washington. The Washington Representation office is tasked to "regularly and actively engage with relevant members of Congress and Congressional staffers to advance understanding of UNRWA" and to conduct advocacy with the State Department and the National Security Council.[19]

Armed with a substantial budget provided in part by U.S. taxpayers, UNRWA recruited highly experienced Washington insiders to represent its interests. Director Matthew A. Reynolds previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, Staff Director of the powerful House Rules Committee, and staff member on the House International Relations and Senate Foreign Relations Committees. Deputy Director Chris McGrath previously worked for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Robert Menendez, now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Led by this well-chosen team, the UNRWA office works quietly but effectively behind the scenes, depicting the organization as benign and building its defenses against assaults on the Hill. The official representatives are assisted by a privately-funded U.S. citizen lobby for UNRWA, also in Washington, the American Friends of UNRWA, led by Phil Wilcox, formerly a senior State Department official. It has an annual budget of $500,000, raised through tax-exempt contributions.[20]


If Israel were to change its policy toward UNRWA, would that be sufficient in itself to produce different results in Congress, or would these other causal factors have to change too?

This hypothetical question cannot be answered with certitude, because up to now it has not happened. But most observers who have watched the history of pro-Israel advocacy on Capitol Hill have been impressed by the ability of AIPAC to achieve ambitious legislative objectives, even against great resistance, when it commits its full resources, with the backing of Israel, to achieve bipartisan support. For example, AIPAC's many successes in conditioning aid to the Palestinian Authority, and in imposing economic sanctions on Iran, were achieved by overpowering numerous opponents, no less formidable than those protecting UNRWA.

But AIPAC will not support an UNRWA initiative that does not have clear backing from Israel. It follows that Israel is the key.


UNRWA's policies are not subject to direct control by Congress or the U.S. government. UNRWA is an Agency of the United Nations, operating under authority and funding granted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and oversight by UNGA's Fourth Committee. In reality, UNRWA enjoys nearly automatic rubber-stamp support in the UNGA, and Israel receives nothing but hostility there. So any effort to change UNRWA's policies in favor of Israel through the UNGA would be futile.


The U.S. Congress can try to influence UNRWA through "soft power," by holding hearings, issuing sense-of-Congress resolutions, and making individual statements— shining a light on UNRWA's shortcomings to embarrass the agency and call attention to its faults. On occasion, this process of shaming UNRWA has had some effect, but overall soft power has not been enough to remedy its deep-seated problems. The more effective lever that Congress could use to influence UNRWA, its "hard power," is the threat to reduce or suspend United States financial assistance if Congressional conditions are not met. Conditioning aid does work, albeit imperfectly, in the one piece of UNRWA reform legislation that was enacted into law, Section 301(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act, prohibiting aid if the agency supports terror in any way.

But, with the exception of Section 301(c), this most effective form of pressure—conditioning aid—is exactly what Israel quietly opposes. That is the main reason that most of the UNRWA reform initiatives described in the Appendix did not have the support they needed and therefore died without enactment.


Are there additional steps that Congress could take to address the UNRWA problem without crossing the Israeli red line? One avenue that has not been tried is Congressional action to correct State Department policy toward UNRWA, rather than UNRWA itself.

For 64 years, the State Department ("State") has colluded in UNRWA practices that perpetuate the refugee problem rather than resolving it. Instead of seeking to correct the dubious UNRWA designations that continually expand the refugee population instead of resolving the problem or reducing its scale, State defends UNRWA practices. State routinely repeats as truth the fiction that there are more than five million "refugees."[21] State defends the practice of counting as Palestinian "refugees" people who became citizens of other Arab states; defends counting people who were never refugees, but are merely grandchildren of deceased refugees; and defends counting people already living in the West Bank and Gaza, territory that the Palestinians themselves have declared to be their "homeland" and "state" and the location where declared U.S. policy states that they should be settled.

These UNRWA practices foment conflict and hurt peace. And yet the State Department declares and defends what it openly calls "United States acceptance [of] UNRWA's method of recognizing refugees."[22]


These UNRWA practices are also in conflict with the black letter laws of the United States. For example, more than 90% of the two million UNRWA "refugees" who reside in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan are citizens of that country under Articles 3 and 9 of Jordan's Nationality Law No. 6 of 1954.[23] Under United States law, a person who is living as a legal citizen in another country and is not subject to extreme persecution in that country cannot be considered to be a "refugee." To be eligible for U.S. refugee status, an individual must be either a "person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or ... is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution."[24] These conditions do not exist among Palestinians who are citizens of Jordan, yet State joins UNRWA in calling these millions of Jordanian citizens with well-established lives in Jordan "refugees."

Another example of UNRWA definitions contravening U.S. law is the UNRWA practice of automatically conferring derivative "refugee" status on persons who never lived in what is now Israel and who were never displaced, but who are merely descended from a (male) refugee, even if they are merely grandchildren or great-grandchildren who have long been settled elsewhere. Section 207 of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act allows spouses and minor children of refugees to apply for derivative status as refugees but, unlike UNRWA's policies, does not allow for grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Indeed, the federal regulation implementing Section 207 specifically declares that grandchildren are ineligible for derivative refugee status.[25] Form I-730, the USCIS Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition used by the Department of Homeland Security, says that "A petition may not be approved for the following persons: ...(6) A parent, sister, brother, grandparent, grandchild, nephew, niece, uncle, aunt, cousin, or in-law."[26] If these legal standards were followed by the State Department in reviewing the UNRWA registration system, the United States would no longer recognize more than 90% of UNRWA beneficiaries as refugees.

Yet, in recent statements, State specifically endorses the practice of giving derivative "refugee" status to grandchildren of authentic (male) Palestinian refugees. "UNRWA generally recognizes descendants of refugees as refugees," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told The Cable. "For purposes of their operations, the U.S. government supports this guiding principle."[27] In correspondence with the Congressional Research Service in September 2013, the State Department defended this practice at length.[28]

Another example is State's willingness to call Palestinians who already reside in the territory of their own declared "state" in the West Bank and Gaza "refugees." Forty percent of Palestinians listed by UNRWA as "refugees" reside in the West Bank and Gaza. This population could not qualify as refugees under the applicable laws in the United States, because they are "firmly resettled" within the guidelines of the Immigration and Nationality Act.[29] According to that Act, persons who are "firmly resettled" in another country are barred from receiving refugee status in the U.S., whether or not they have been given formal citizenship where they reside.

The Palestinian Basic Law provides unambiguously that the residents of the West Bank and Gaza are permanently settled: "No Palestinian may be deported from the homeland, prevented or prohibited from returning to or leaving it, deprived of his citizenship, or handed over to any foreign entity."[30] The U.S. Department of State has determined that the Palestinian Authority Passport/Travel Document meets the requirements of a passport as defined in Section 101(a)(30) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and therefore is acceptable for visa issuing purposes and entering and departing the United States.[31]

It is also clearly established United States policy that Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza are citizens of the Palestinian Authority already residing in what will be their future state, not refugees preparing to resettle in Israel or another country. Three Presidents — Barack Obama,[32] William Clinton,[33] and George W. Bush[34]— have declared that the durable solution to the Palestinian refugee problem will be their settlement in the future state of Palestine (i.e., the West Bank and Gaza), not Israel. The United States House of Representatives and the Senate have already endorsed the principle that the Palestinian refugees should be settled in the future Palestinian state, not Israel, and so stated in a Concurrent Resolution passed in both houses in June 2004.[35] Congress should insist that the State Department be consistent with these laws and policies. The millions of Palestinians who already live in the West Bank and Gaza are not "refugees."


If Congress cannot "fix" UNRWA, because Israel's dependence on that organization stands in the way, it can "fix" the State Department's policy toward the definition of a Palestinian "refugee." The United States needs to lead the donor nations in redefining UNRWA as a social service agency delivering health care and educational opportunities to needy Palestinians, not an agency for persons falsely defined as refugees.[36]

If Congress cannot "fix" UNRWA, it can "fix" the State Department's policy toward the definition of a Palestinian "refugee."

The purpose should not be to terminate UNRWA services for registrants who are not really refugees, but to reregister them in other non-refugee categories that already exist in UNRWA's own rules. UNRWA's Consolidated Eligibility & Registration Instructions do not require UNRWA beneficiaries to be classified as "refugees" because its Section III.A.2 and Section III.B create classes of UNRWA beneficiaries not registered as "refugees" but who are nonetheless eligible for UNRWA services. These classes of persons are listed as "Other Registered Persons" and persons "eligible to receive UNRWA services without being registered in UNRWA's Registration System."[37]

Changing U.S. practices could lead, over time, to corresponding changes in other donor countries in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and Canada. If all the major donors redefined this population as "needy persons, yes, but refugees, no," it would be a major contribution toward reducing conflict in the region. It would not solve all the problems of UNRWA, but it would ameliorate UNRWA's most damaging effect, its practices that perpetuate the refugee issue as a source of tension and conflict.

This is something Congress can do without harming UNRWA's ability to deliver social services. An untested question is whether, if Israel nonetheless received that "Call" from Washington to "call off the dogs," it would feel obligated to oppose the legislation even though UNRWA's budget would not be cut and its schools and hospitals would continue to function.

Steven J. Rosen is Director of the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum. From 1982 to 2005, he was a senior official of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.


1999: Section 301(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act conditioned United States aid on UNRWA taking "all possible measures to assure that" no U.S. assistance goes to any UNRWA beneficiary who "is receiving military training" for any guerrilla organization or "who has engaged in any act of terrorism." In 2003, PL 108-7, Section 580, required the General Accounting Office (GAO) to report to the appropriations committees on State Department compliance with Section 301(c) of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act and the implementation of procedures established to meet State standards for Section 301(c).[38]

Result: Enacted into law, (Title 22 U.S. Code sec. 2221).

2003: House Concurrent Resolution 311 urging UNRWA to establish a program for resettling refugees and urging the international community to recognize the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. 22 cosponsors.[39]

Result: Died in Committee.

2006: House Resolution 5278: UNRWA Integrity Act. 20 cosponsors. To condition aid to UNRWA on Presidential certification that UNRWA "is not an impediment to achieving a lasting solution for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza and moving such refugees to post-refugee status" and mandates a report by the Secretary of State on the extent to which UNRWA "contributes to a solution to the refugee problem or perpetuates the refugee problem"; that "UNRWA programs encourage or discourage Palestinians from moving out of refugee camps and pursuing an economically independent existence"; that UNRWA has "a long-term plan for providing jobs and housing for Palestinian refugees and for phasing out services provided by UNRWA; and the extent to which UNRWA includes in its educational materials or other programs anti-Semitic elements or elements that promote the denial of the right of Israel to exist."[40]

Result: Died in Committee.

2009: House Concurrent Resolution 29. 32 sponsors. Sense-of-Congress resolution that reaffirms Section 301(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act conditioning UNRWA aid on no involvement with terror; calls on UNRWA to improve their transparency by publishing online copies of all educational materials used in UNRWA-administered schools; and urges UNRWA to improve their accountability by implementing terrorist name recognition software and other screening procedures that would help to ensure that UNRWA staff, volunteers, and beneficiaries are neither terrorists themselves, nor affiliated with known terrorist organizations.[41]

Result: Died in committee.

2010: House Resolution 5065. The UNRWA Humanitarian Accountability Act. 5 sponsors.[42] Conditions aid to UNRWA on a determination by the Secretary of State that no person affiliated with UNRWA is "a member of a Foreign Terrorist Organization; has ... disseminated... anti-American, anti-Israel, or anti-Semitic ... propaganda; or has used any UNRWA resources... to propagate or disseminate political materials...; no UNRWA ... facility... is being used by a Foreign Terrorist Organization ..."; UNRWA is subject to comprehensive financial audits by an internationally recognized third party independent auditing firm and has implemented an effective system... to prevent the use... of any UNRWA resources by any foreign terrorist organization.... Also includes a Sense-of- Congress resolution that the President and the Secretary of State should lead a high-level diplomatic effort to encourage other responsible nations to withhold contributions to UNRWA, ... until UNRWA has met the conditions listed in ... this Act; citizens of recognized states should be removed from UNRWA's jurisdiction; UNRWA's definition of a Palestine refugee should be changed to that used for a refugee by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and... responsibility for those refugees should be fully transferred to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Result: Died in Committee.

2011: House Resolution 2829. The United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act of 2011, Section XIII. 142 sponsors. Related Bills: S.1848 12/8/2011: 4 Sponsors.[43] Reintroduced in September 2013 as United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act of 2013 H.R. 3155 and S. 1313.[44] Section XIII regarding UNRWA adopts the exact same language as the UNRWA Humanitarian Accountability Act of 2010, which was not enacted. Conditions aid to UNRWA on a determination by the Secretary of State that no person affiliated with UNRWA is "a member of a Foreign Terrorist Organization; has ... disseminated... anti-American, anti-Israel, or anti-Semitic ... propaganda; or has used any UNRWA resources... to propagate or disseminate political materials...; no UNRWA... facility... is being used by a Foreign Terrorist Organization ..."; UNRWA is subject to comprehensive financial audits by an internationally recognized third party independent auditing firm and has implemented an effective system... to prevent the use... of any UNRWA resources by any foreign terrorist organization... Also includes a Sense-of- Congress resolution (Section 803) that the President and the Secretary of State should lead a high-level diplomatic effort to encourage other responsible nations to withhold contributions to UNRWA,... until UNRWA has met the conditions listed in... this Act; citizens of recognized states should be removed from UNRWA's jurisdiction; UNRWA's definition of a Palestine refugee should be changed to that used for a refugee by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and... responsibility for those refugees should be fully transferred to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Result: Reported by Committee, died on the floor.

2012: First Kirk UNRWA Reporting Requirement Senate Report 112-085 - Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, 2012.[45] Directs the General Accounting Office "to submit a report assessing (1) the ability of the Palestinian Authority to assume responsibility for any of the programs and activities conducted by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in the West Bank; (2) actions required by the Palestinian Authority in order to assume such responsibility; and (3) the opinion of the Department of State and relevant ministries of the Government of Israel, including the Ministry of Defense, on the viability of transitioning such programs and activities from UNRWA to the Palestinian Authority."

Result: GAO declined to provide the mandated report, and told Senator Kirk's office it was advised by the State Department that it is not possible to produce such a report.

2012: Second Kirk UNRWA Reporting Requirement requiring a report on UNRWA's "refugee" definition, under the Protracted Refugee Situations subheading in Senate Reports, 112–172, 113–81, and 113-195.[46] Report language of the Senate Appropriations Committee directing the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committee indicating the approximate number of people receiving UNRWA services "whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who were displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict" versus the number "who are descendants of [such] persons."

Result: The State Department has declined to provide the mandated report. In a letter to the subcommittee, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides objected, asserting that this requirement would be "viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue."[47]

2013: H.R.1337 Palestine Accountability Act Introduced in House (03/21/2013) (Rep. DeSantis, Ron [R-FL-6] Mr. Culberson, Mr. Sam Johnson of Texas, Mr. Pitts, Mr. Flores, Mr. King of Iowa, and Mr. Franks of Arizona). Prohibits funds from being obligated or expended for U.S. contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) unless: (1) a U.S. nongovernmental or private entity audits the UNRWA budget and the Secretary submits the audit to Congress, and (2) the Secretary certifies to Congress that UNRWA meets specified requirements. SEC. 5. Prohibition on United States Contributions to UNRWA. (a) In General. --No funds available to any United States Government department or agency for any fiscal year may be obligated or expended with respect to making contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) unless with respect to such fiscal year -- (1) an independent audit of the budget of UNRWA is conducted by a United States nongovernmental or private organization or entity and the Secretary of State submits such audit to Congress; and (2) the Secretary of State certifies to Congress that UNRWA, at a minimum, meets the requirements applicable to the Palestinian Authority under paragraphs (1) to (3), (5), and (7) of section 2(a) of this Act, except that for purposes of meeting the requirements of paragraph (1) of such section, the term "Palestinian Authority" shall be deemed to be "UNRWA."

Result: Died in Committee.

2014: S. 2766: Palestinian and United Nations Anti-Terrorism Act of 2014, Section 6. Introduced by Marco Rubio on July 31, 2014 and sent to committee.[48] Amends Section 301(c) to prohibit aid to UNRWA unless the Secretary of State certifies that no employee or beneficiary of UNRWA is a member of Hamas or any terrorist group or has incited anti-Israel or anti-Semitic propaganda; that no UNRWA facility is used for terrorist purposes; and that UNRWA is subject to independent audits.

Progress: Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations      text

1] For an analysis of UNRWA's role in perpetuating the refugee issue as a source of tension, see the present author's overview "Why a special issue on UNRWA?" The Middle East Quarterly (2012).

[2] Karen Abu Zayd, "UNRWA needs support not brickbats," Middle East Monitor (April 1, 2012).

[3] Jim Zanotti, "U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians," Congressional Research Service, RS22967, July 3, 2014.

[4] Id., at 11-12.

[5] Exchange of letters constituting a provisional agreement concerning assistance to Palestinian Refugees,, June 14, 1967.

[6] U.N. GAOR, 64th Sess., 4th Committee, 22nd Meeting (PM), U.N. Doc GA/SPD/442, (Nov. 1, 2009), available at (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[7] Press Release, "Success of UN Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees Also Sign of Collective Failure to Resolve Political Question That Led to Refugee Crisis, Fourth Committee Hears," UN, Press Release GA/SPD/442 (Nov. 3, 2009), available at (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[8] Supra note 2.

[9] Baruch Spiegel, "Jerusalem's Surprisingly Good Relations with UNRWA," Middle East Quarterly (2012) (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[10] Supra note 3.

[11] U.S. Department of State, Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, FY2015 (Appendix 2), at 134.

[12] Ron Csillag, "Canada redirecting Palestinian aid from UNRWA," JTA (Jan. 14, 2010).

[13] Lee Berthiaume, "Israel asked Canada to reverse decision on funding for UN Palestinian refugee agency," Embassy (July 6, 2011).

[14] "Holland to reconsider UNRWA funding," (Dec. 12, 2011).

[15] Reported in private email to the author (March 3, 2012).

[16] Quoted in Al-Sabil (Jordan), Jan.11, 2014, available here (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[17] E.g., U.S. Department of State, Migration and Refugee Assistance FY 2012, available here (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[18] (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[19] Chris McGrath, Washington Liaison Officer at UNRWA,

[20] Friends of UNRWA Association Inc, (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[21] E.g., Letter from Deputy Secretary of State to Patrick J. Leahy (May 24, 2012), available here (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[22] Josh Rogin, "Did the State Department just create 5 million Palestinian refugees?" Foreign Policy, (May 25, 2012).

[23] Law No. 6 of 1954 on Nationality (last amended 1987) (January 1, 1954), available here (last visited Nov. 10, 2014).

[24] INA Act 101(a), sec. 42, available here.

[25] (last visited Nov. 10, 2014).

[26] Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition, available at (last visited Nov. 7, 2014). These rules are treated by American courts as being as legally binding as statutory law, under the "reasonable interpretation" test of the Chevron doctrine, as articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court, Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).

[27] Supra note 21.

[28] Supra note 3, at 24.

[29] 8 U.S.C. §1158(b)(2)(A)(vi) (2006), Sec. 208(b)(2)(A)(vi), available here.

[30] The Palestinian Basic Law, art. 28. Available here.

[31] U. S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Palestine/Occupied Territories: Information on passports issued by the Palestine National Authority (Dec. 17, 1998), PAL99001.ZCH, available here.

[32] Remarks by the President at the AIPAC Policy Conference,, 2011.

[33] Clinton Proposal on Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Dec. 23, 2000).

[34] Exchange of letters between PM Sharon and President Bush (Apr. 14, 2004).

[35] H. Con. Res. 460, 108 Cong. (2003-2004).

[36] Steven J. Rosen and Daniel Pipes, "Lessening UNRWA's Damage," The Jerusalem Post, July 9, 2012.

[37] U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East, Consolidated Eligibility and Registration Instructions (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[38] See Department of State and UNRWA Actions to Implement Section 301(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, GAO-04-276R (Nov. 17, 2003) available at (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[39] H. Con. Res. 311, 108 Con. (2003), available at

[40] H.R. 5278, 109th Con. (2006) available at visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[41] H. Con. Res. 29, 111Con. (2009) available at (last visited Nov. 7, 2014) (previously offered as H. Con. Res. 428 in 2008, available at (last visited Nov. 7, 2014)).

[42] H.R. 5065, 111th Con. (2010) available at (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[43] S. 1848, 11th Con. (2011) available at (last visited Nov. 10, 2014).

[44] H. R. 3155, 113th Con. (2013) available at

[45] S. Rep. 112-085, 112th Con. (2012) available here. (last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

[46] Id., and also S. Rep. 113-195, 113th Con. (2014) available here, and Daniel Pipes, "History of the Kirk Amendment concerning UNRWA," 2012.

[47] Supra note 20.

[48] S. 2766, 113th Con. (2013) available here.(last visited Nov. 7, 2014).

Related Topics:  Arab-Israel conflict & diplomacy, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians  |  Steven J. Rosen

Steven J. Rosen is Director of the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum.
This is excerpted from of September 30.

Here is a paradox: UNRWA, the United Nations agency that manages the Palestinian refugee issue, follows rules that contradict United States law and policy, and its practices result in perpetuating and multiplying the refugee problem rather than resolving it. Yet the U.S. Department of State gives unquestioning support to UNRWA's refugee designation rules, even on occasion defending them in detail. How can this be?

For example, almost two million Palestinians who have long been settled in Jordan and have for decades enjoyed Jordanian citizenship are routinely counted as "refugees" by UNRWA, and the State

Department supports it. This, in spite of the fact that, under U.S. law, a person who has citizenship in the country where he resides, and enjoys the protection of that state, cannot lawfully be eligible for refugee status. How can State justify this contradiction?

Here is a second example: Another two million Palestinians already settled in the West Bank and Gaza, and who, by their own account, live in the declared Palestinian state as its citizens under a Palestinian government, are registered as "refugees" by UNRWA. By American legal standards, these Palestinians are "firmly settled" and therefore ineligible for "refugee" status. Further, according to American policy reaffirmed by three Presidents, these Palestinians already reside in their own future state, the place where Palestinian refugees are meant to be settled. Yet the State Department supports UNRWA's decision to count two million Palestinians well established in the West Bank and Gaza as "refugees," too.

Here is a third example: Under U.S. laws and regulations, only an individual who was personally displaced, or is a spouse or an underage dependent of such an individual, can be eligible for refugee status or derivative refugee status.

Grandchildren and great-grandchildren are specifically not entitled to inherit refugee status merely because their ancestor was a refugee. But under UNRWA practices, any descendant of a male refugee, no matter how many generations and decades have passed, is automatically entitled to be counted as a "refugee." More than 95% of today's UNRWA "refugees," in fact, were not even alive when Israel was born in 1948; were never personally displaced by Israel's creation, and are listed by UNRWA as "refugees" only because of this peculiar practice of inheriting refugee status as a birthright.

Amazingly, the State Department defends all this, sometimes with great specificity. In response to critics of the descendancy principle, for example, the State Department recently reported, with approval, that UNRWA is not the only UN agency following this inheritance rule; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) occasionally does, as well. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told Foreign Policy magazine on May 25, 2012, "For purposes of their operations,   the U.S. government supports this guiding principle." (State ignores that UNHCR grants inherited refugee status only occasionally and as a special exception, while UNRWA treats it as the normal practice, justifying 95% of its "refugee" designations.)

The State Department is also inconsistent. If UNHCR were its standard, State would reject UNRWA's practice of counting Jordanian citizens as refugees. In not a single case does UNHCR count a person with citizenship as a refugee, while 40% of UNRWA's registrants are citizens of Jordan. In fact, UNHCR's authorizing statute, and the Refugee Convention that undergirds the agency, both explicitly forbid continuing "refugee" status when a person attains citizenship. UNRWA's authorizing document does not.

The State Department has shown that it will resist any change in its policy toward the UNRWA practices that exacerbate and perpetuate the refugee problem.

State is sanguine even about the fact that these UNRWA practices steadily inflate the number of alleged Palestinian refugees year after year, from 750,000 in 1950 to more than 5 million today, a sevenfold increase. "In protracted refugee situations, refugee groups experience natural population growth over time," State cheerfully affirmed in 2013.

The State Department has shown that it will resist any change in its policy toward the UNRWA practices that exacerbate and perpetuate the refugee problem. When Senator Mark Kirk introduced an amendment to the 2013 State Department Appropriations bill to force the Department to change, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R. Nides fiercely objected: "Legislation which would force the United States to make a public judgment on the number and status of Palestinian refugees would be viewed… as the United States acting to prejudge a final status issue and determine the outcome."

This is the same State Department that, on more than 20 occasions during the Obama years, has ferociously and publicly castigated the government of Israel for constructing homes in disputed areas of Jerusalem and the West Bank, also a final status issue to be resolved between the parties. Apparently more Israeli homes hurt peace, but multiplying the number of refugees is fine.

Nides said that any divergence from UNRWA's rules would "hurt our efforts to promote Middle East peace… undercut our ability to act as a mediator and peace facilitator... damage confidence between the parties, [and]...hurt our efforts to prevent the Palestinians from...pursuit of statehood via the United Nations." He continued that it would also "generate very strong negative reaction" because this is "one of the most sensitive final status issues" that "strikes a deep, emotional, chord," especially at this "particularly fragile...[and] sensitive time." It would, he claimed, "be seen as a diminution of support for the Palestinian people" and "put at risk the humanitarian needs of this large, poor, and vulnerable refugee group." And, he added, it would "risk a very negative and potentially destabilizing impact on key allies, particularly Jordan."

This frightening Parade of Horribles was assembled by the State Department bureaus to scare away a compromise amendment that would leave UNRWA intact as a social service delivery agency, remove not one person from its beneficiary rolls, and cut not a dime from its budget. All the amendment had said, in effect, was that the UNRWA beneficiaries may be needy people deserving of assistance, but they are not "refugees." Yet those are the words State cannot bear to be uttered.

The government of Israel would agree with Nides that "UNRWA serves as an important counterweight to extremist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah" and that "any void left by UNRWA would be likely be filled by terrorist elements." But supporting UNRWA's schools and hospitals, and its stabilizing role, does not require that the United States government continue to call UNRWA beneficiaries "refugees" when they are not. UNRWA's own Consolidated Eligibility & Registration instructions do not require UNRWA beneficiaries to be classified as "refugees"-- its Section III.A.2 and Section III.B create classes of UNRWA beneficiaries not registered as "refugees" but who are nonetheless eligible for UNRWA services.

The sad reality is that the United States' Department of State does not want such simple reforms. The U.S. State Department has, instead, chosen instead to act as UNRWA's patron and the protector of its mission, perpetuating and expanding the refugee issue as a source of conflict against Israel.

Gatestone Institute, by Alexander Joffe, May 4, 2011 at 5:00 am

In Palestinian economics, where all the money goes is unclear -- but where does all the money come from? Which U.S. programs give how much and who has legislative oversight? Now that Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister Salaam Fayyad has announced a plan for September for unilateral Palestinian statehood, which includes a request for $5 billion over three years -- and presumes that the newly announced Fatah-Hamas rapprochement does not scuttle all American aid -- the problem of oversight is all the more pressing.

The fundamental tension between Congress's power of the purse and the president's obligation to make foreign policy has always been clear. But so too is the extent to which certifications and waivers by the Executive blatantly circumvent the express will of Congress and defy its obligations to advise and obtain consent.

The will of Congress and the empirical reality regarding the difficulties of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian society count for little when successive U.S. presidents waive requirements and certify compliance regardless of Palestinian performance. And presidential ability to "reprogram" funds removes Congress even farther from the equation.

A recent Congressional Research Service study notes that since 2007 the U.S. has contributed $650 million to the Palestinian Authority for "direct budgetary assistance" and almost $400 million for "security forces and criminal justice systems" in the West Bank. Almost another $1 billion was directed through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to be "implemented by nongovernmental organizations in humanitarian assistance, economic development, democratic reform, improving water access and other infrastructure, health care, education, and vocational training." Finally, the U.S. is the largest single contributor to UNRWA and having provided over $230 million in 2010.

USAID is an independent agency whose appropriations requests are made by the Department of State and submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and House Committee on Foreign Affairs have oversight responsibility. The Senate exercises relevant oversight through two subcommittees called "International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs, and International Environmental Protection," and "Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs." The House exercises oversight through the full committee and various subcommittees on "Oversight and Investigations," "Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights," Middle East and South Asia," and "Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade."

Economic Support Funds provided by USAID can not go directly to the Palestinian Authority without a waiver to the Appropriations Committee from the U.S. president saying that it is in the interest of U.S. national security to provide them, and and a certification from the Secretary of State regarding the PA's treasury, payroll and civil service – all according to section 2106 of chapter 2 of title II of Public Law 109-13, a 2005 emergency supplemental defense and relief bill (and Public Law 108-199 of 2004 before it).

Public Law 109-13, for example, requires, among other things, that the President certify that Palestinian security services have purged their ranks of terrorists, that the Palestinian Authority stop incitement against Israel, and that it cooperate with the US. in investigations of Yassir Arafat's finances. These waivers have been provided annually despite the fact that Palestinian incitement continues, Palestinian security forces are still laden with terrorists, and Yassir Arafat's money is still missing.

Another $100 million for Palestinian security aid and institution building is allocated through a program called International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement. This is a Foreign Military Assistance program but it is also directed by the Department of State under Section 1206(f) of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act.

Much of the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement funding for the Palestinian Authority had been "reprogrammed" by President George W. Bush, using a Presidential Determination under Chapter 8 of Part I (Section 481) of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act which states "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the President is authorized to furnish assistance to any country or international organization, on such terms and conditions as he may determine, for the control of narcotic and psychotropic drugs and other controlled substances, or for other anticrime purposes."

Other presidential wavers provided additional money from the Economic Support Fund account to the Palestinian Authority. These were done under the authority of the Foreign Assistance Act which states "None of the funds made available by this Act may be obligated under an appropriation account to which they were not appropriated, except for transfers specifically provided for in this Act, unless the President, prior to the exercise of any authority contained in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to transfer funds, consults with and provides a written policy justification to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate."

In fact, the legislative system of appropriations and oversight matters very little when it comes to U.S. aid to the Palestinians: the system of foreign aid permits the president to independently "certify" or "waive" requirements introduced by Congress. It demonstrates the extent to which U.S. aid to the Palestinians is an instrument of Executive policy rather than an altruistic enterprise authorized by the Legislative branch. Of course, such methods are not unique to the Palestinian case. Congress permits presidential waivers on everything from Azerbaijan's blockage of Nagorno-Karabagh to the use of child soldiers by Chad, Congo, Sudan and Yemen.

But the extent to which foreign aid to the Palestinians is a political tool of the Executive may be in a class by itself: Western and Palestinian supporters of continued aid routinely offer at least two scenarios that would unfold should aid be withdrawn or reduced: "radicalization" and "humanitarian crises." In effect the Executive branch is blackmailed.

Legislation proposed in Congress to limit or condition funds to the Palestinian Authority or UNRWA are largely meaningless in this light. The "UNRWA Humanitarian Accountability Act," for example, offered by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2010, demanded that UNRWA not be used by or support Palestinian terrorists. But like the appropriations bills described above, it offers the Executive branch an out by requiring only "a written determination by the Secretary of State, based on all information available after diligent inquiry, and transmitted to the appropriate congressional committees along with a detailed description of the factual basis therefore." Such a statement is a foregone conclusion. The mechanisms for Congress to review results independently, hearings, reports from Congressional staff, the Congressional Research Service, and the Government Accountability Office, have no weight except in the politics of the next appropriations cycle.

Aid the Palestinians is a microcosm of the larger question of how U.S. foreign aid works. Now that Hamas will evidently join Fatah in a Palestinian Authority poised to declare statehood and request vast additional support, creating genuine Congressional oversight -- with teeth -- should be addressed once again.


Times of Israel by David Grantham and Calev Michael Myers, February 23, 2017

David Grantham, PhD, is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, Texas.    Calev Myers is a partner at Yehuda Raveh & Co. Law Offices and the Founder of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice.

American taxpayer money is wasted on UN programs, such as the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), for which the United States remains the single largest donor of any country, having given $380 million toward a nearly $1 billion budget in 2015.

The United Nations set up UNRWA in 1950 to provide relief services for Palestinian Arabs displaced after the 1948 war between the new State of Israel and its Arab neighbors. The organization was intended to provide temporary social services only to Palestinian Arab refugees and only until they could be integrated into the country that sheltered them. UNRWA has instead grown into a near-permanent refugee industry with substandard education, health care and social services for the millions of Palestinian Arabs under its care.

Despite billions of dollars in aid over the past six decades, there has been little improvement in the lives of Palestinians under UNRWA’s care.

But five issues, in particular, undermine the rationale for its very existence:

1. Flawed Legal Mandate

A Palestinian-only refugee agency is legally unsound and morally unjust. Indeed, all other refugees around the world –‒ 130 million since World War II ‒‒ are cared for under the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR has a specific mandate to integrate refugees into the country where they reside to avoid creating generations of people dependent on foreign assistance. UNRWA does just the opposite by applying refugee status to third and fourth generation Palestinians who were never displaced. As a result, the number of “Palestine refugees” grew from roughly 700,000 in 1950 to over 5 million today.

2. Conflicts of Interest

UNHCR avoids employing aid recipients to escape conflict of interests, whereas UNRWA is staffed mainly by Palestinians and those with an interest in maintaining and growing the system. Making matters worse, an overstaffed UNRWA employs one person for every 182 Palestine refugees registered by UNRWA, compared to UNHCR’s one staff member for every 5,500 refugees.

3. Faulty Logic of Refugee Status

Approximately 2 million Arab Palestinians live in the area west of the Jordan River, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and are registered by UNRWA as refugees from Palestine. The problem is that these refugees cannot be considered refugees from Palestine since they already live in the Palestinian Authority; the vast majority of them were born in their current place of residence and were never displaced.That twisted logic has now allowed thousands of Syrians of Palestinian origin to register with UNRWA, despite the fact that the majority of them were born in Syria and lived there as citizens until civil war displaced them. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of other Syrian refugees not of Palestinian origin receive no such preferential treatment.***

4. Radicalizing the Innocent

UNRWA textbooks are based largely on Hamas ideology and systematically indoctrinate students in violent jihad. Their schools also periodically hold ceremonies to honor “shahids” or those who have carried out terrorist attacks. Even the UNRWA schools in Gaza were revealed to have been used as munitions storage for Hamas on three different occasions in 2014. In one instance, UNRWA officials simply handed confiscated missiles back to Hamas.

5. UNRWA Terrorism Connection

The Hamas faction has won the last three elections for the employees’ committee within UNRWA, meaning most employees are members of or support Hamas. That poses a significant problem because, among other issues, Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mash’al admitted that Hamas often reallocates for military use large amounts of donations intended to rebuild civilian infrastructure.

The US government must rethink funding UNRWA. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) began the process with the 2014 UNRWA Anti-Terrorism Act. But US officials could go one step further by refusing to renew UNRWA’s mandate when it expires in June 2017, and by giving UNHCR responsibility for Palestinian refugees. All UNRWA operations west of the Jordan River could then be transferred to the Palestinian Authority.

American taxpayers and the average Palestinian have virtually nothing to show for the millions provided to UNRWA. The U.S. government and others must demand new solutions.

SEE ALSO Restoring the Palestinian cause is the foundation
(This is in Arabic.  Click right mouse button and then select Translate to English, or other language)


Gatestone Institute, Khaled Abu Toameh, August 19, 2015

Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah did not tell the visiting U.S. Congressmen that the $4.5 billion the Americans invested in promoting Palestinian democracy went down the drain or ended up in secret Swiss bank accounts. Nor did he tell the Congressman that the Palestinians do not have a functioning parliament or a free media under the PA in the West Bank or under Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And, of course, Hamdallah never told the Congressman that for Palestinians, presidential and parliamentary elections remain a remote dream.

The refusal of the international community back then to hold Arafat accountable was the main reason a majority of Palestinians were driven into the open arms of Hamas. Palestinians saw no improvement in their living conditions, mainly as a result of the PA's corruption. That is why they turned to Hamas, which promised them change, reform and an end to financial corruption.

The Americans and Europeans are therefore responsible for Hamas's rise to power.

One does not have to be an expert on Palestinian affairs to see that the billions of dollars have neither created democracy for the Palestinians nor boosted the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The "investment" in Palestinian democracy and peace with Israel has been a complete failure because of the refusal of the U.S. Administration to hold the Palestinian Authority fully accountable.

Unless Western donors demand that the PA use their money to bring democracy to its people and prepare them for peace, the prospects of reviving any peace process will remain zero.

During the past 20 years, the U.S. has invested $4.5 billion in promoting democracy among the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and boosting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

This is what Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah revealed during a meeting in Ramallah .this week with Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hamdallah said that the money was also invested in projects in various Palestinian sectors.

The $4.5 billion that Hamdallah talked about does not include the billions of dollars poured on the Palestinian Authority (PA) since its creation in 1994. Palestinian economic analysts estimate that the PA has received a total of $25 billion in financial aid from the U.S. and other countries during the past two decades.

One does not have to be an expert on Palestinian affairs to see that the billions of dollars have neither created democracy for the Palestinians nor boosted the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Twenty years later, the Palestinians still have a long way to go before they ever see real democracy in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

To begin with, the Palestinian Authority, which was born out of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, was never a democratic regime. On the contrary; what the Palestinians got from the start was a mini-dictatorship run by Yasser Arafat and his PLO and Fatah cronies. It was a corrupt regime, was directly funded and armed by the U.S., Europe and several other countries.

Those who were funding Arafat's autocratic regime back then never cared about either democracy or transparency. They were pouring billions of dollars on the PA without holding its leaders accountable.

The result was that the Palestinians got a regime that not only deprived them of most of the international aid, but that also cracked down on political opponents and freedom of speech. The Palestinian Authority was actually a one-man show called Yasser Arafat; he and his cronies were the main benefactors of American and European taxpayers' money.

At the time, the assumption in the U.S., Europe and other countries was that a corrupt and repressive Arafat would one day make far-reaching concessions for the sake of peace with Israel.

Because he was on the payroll of the Americans and Europeans, the thinking went, Arafat would never be able to say no to any offer -- such as the generous proposal he received from then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the botched Camp David summit in the summer of 2000. But when Arafat was finally put to test at Camp David, which was sponsored by President Bill Clinton, he walked out of the summit, accusing the U.S. of trying to force him to make concessions that no Palestinian would ever accept.

The billions of dollars that Arafat received between 1994 and 2000 from the Americans and the international community failed to convince him to accept the most generous offer ever made to the Palestinians by an Israeli prime minister. Even worse, the first seven years of the peace process resulted in the second intifada, which erupted in September 2000 -- a few months after the collapse of the Camp David summit.

The refusal of the international community back then to hold Arafat accountable was the main reason a majority of Palestinians were driven into the open arms of Hamas. Palestinians lost faith not only in the peace process, but also in the Palestinian Authority and its leaders. Palestinians saw no improvement in their living conditions, mainly as a result of the PA's corruption.

That is why they turned to Hamas, which promised them change, reform and an end to financial corruption. The Americans and Europeans are therefore responsible for Hamas's rise to power.

Until 2007, the Palestinians had only one corrupt and undemocratic regime, called the Palestinian Authority. Since then, the Palestinians have earned another regime that is even more ruthless and repressive: Hamas.

So if $4.5 billion brought the Palestinians two corrupt and undemocratic regimes, what would have happened had the U.S. and Europe invested a few more billion dollars in promoting Palestinian democracy? The Palestinians would most likely have seen the emergence of a few more dictatorships in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Of course, the Palestinian Authority prime minister did not tell the visiting U.S. Congressmen that the $4.5 billion the Americans invested in promoting Palestinian democracy went down the drain or ended up in secret Swiss bank accounts. Nor did he tell the Congressman that the Palestinians do not have a functioning parliament or a free media under the PA in the West Bank or under Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And, of course, Hamdallah never told the Congressman that for Palestinians, presidential and parliamentary elections remain a remote dream.

But, like most Westerners who visit Ramallah, Congressman McCarthy obviously did not ask harsh questions, especially regarding the Palestinians' responsibilities toward democracy and the peace process. The Congressman was undoubtedly glad to hear that the U.S. has invested $4.5 billion in Palestinian democracy and boosting the peace process. But did he and others ever ask whether and how the Palestinian Authority used those funds to advance these two goals?

One does not need to ask Palestinian Authority officials about the way they spent the American aid money because the reality on the ground is too obvious. The PA took the billions of dollars and continues to operate as a corrupt and undemocratic regime. Democracy is the last thing the Palestinians expect to see from the PA or Hamas.

And what has the Palestinian Authority done with the billions of dollars to advance the cause of peace with Israel? Has the PA leadership used this money to promote peace and coexistence with Israel? The answer, of course, is no. Instead of using American financial aid to further this cause, the PA has done -- and continues to do -- the exact opposite. In addition to inciting its people against Israel on a daily basis, the Palestinian Authority leadership has been using these funds to wage a massive campaign in the international community with the purpose of isolating and delegitimizing Israel and turning it into a pariah state.

The "investment" in Palestinian democracy and peace with Israel has been a complete failure because of the refusal of the U.S. Administration to hold the Palestinian Authority fully accountable.

Unless Western donors bang on the table and demand that the Palestinian Authority use their money to bring democracy to its people and prepare them for peace, the prospects of reviving any peace process in the Middle East will remain zero.

Appendix Congressional Resolutions

Why the

State Dept.
Defends UNRWA's Artificial
"Refugee" Designations



Foreign Aid

to the

What Are
Doing With
U.S. Money?

US Ends All Funding
to UN Agency for
Palestinian Refugees

US House committee unanimously passes

Taylor Force Act

Trump administration declares support for
Taylor Force bill

Why has the

U.S. Congress
Done so Little
About UNRWA?