US bill demands reform of UNRWA in return for funding

The UNRWA Accountability and Transparency Act was introduced simultaneously in the Senate and the House by Republican legislators.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A new law was proposed Tuesday by Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate that would ban funding the UN organization for Palestinian refugees and their descendants unless a string of reforms is carried out.

Senator James Risch (R-ID) and Congressman Chip Roy (R-Tx) gave several reasons for introducing their UNRWA Accountability and Transparency Act.

“When UNRWA was created, its specific purpose was to provide relief for refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli Conflict,” said Sen. Jim Risch. “More than 70 years later, the organization has employed individuals affiliated with Hamas, a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO), and its schools have been used to promote anti-Semitism and store Hamas weapons.”

“It is unacceptable that U.S. taxpayer dollars are being used to fund this agency, which is why I’ve introduced legislation to cease U.S. contributions to UNRWA unless the administration can certify without a doubt that the agency has no affiliation with U.S. designation FTOs and does not support anti-Semitic rhetoric.

“The American people deserve better, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on holding both the administration and UNRWA accountable until meaningful reforms are made.”

Israel has long held that the UN agency should be disbanded, in the belief that it only helps to perpetuate the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The bill demands that the Secretary of State certify in writing that no UNRWA employee or recipient of its funds supports or has ties to terrorist organizations “like Hamas or Hezbollah.” A full financial audit and vetting system must also be put in place to prevent any UNRWA funds being diverted to such organizations.

In addition, neither its employees or its educational material can promote anti-American, anti-Israel, or anti-Semitic rhetoric without the body losing its American funding.

Congressman Roy also cited UNRWA’s ties to Hamas and its “long track record of using educational materials that promote anti-Semitism, violence, and terrorism,” which makes the organization “an obstacle to peace” with a “flawed mandate [that] perpetuates the Palestinian ‘refugee crisis’ by using a nonsensical definition of a refugee.”

The Palestinians are the only group in the world that is also allowed to call descendants of those who fled war “refugees,” thus swelling their numbers from several hundred thousand in 1948 to several million today. A State Department report from 2018 stated that by now there are only some 20,000 refugees left from Israel’s War of Independence.

“I am proud to partner with Senator Jim Risch to put an end to the Biden Administration’s reckless decision to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to UNRWA,” Roy added, “which has failed to meet previous commitments to stop its hostility towards Israel. If we truly desire peace, we must chart a new course that phases out UNRWA.”

The bill, which has 12 Senate and 28 Congressional co-sponsors, was brought in response to the Biden administration’s April decision to restore aid – to the tune of $150 million – that had been cut off by the Trump administration due to the issues cited by the legislators.

An additional $75 million was allocated at the same time for economic and development assistance to the Palestinians themselves. As the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Risch had put an “information hold” on the additional funds, blocking the aid by preventing notification of its reinstatement from reaching the committee.

At the time, he had stated that there should first be “increased oversight of Palestinian assistance to ensure compliance with anti-terrorism policies,” such as the cancellation of the Palestinian Authority’s financial support of jailed terrorists that flies in the face of American law.