Powered byWebtrack Logo


To get maximum benefit from the ICJS website Register now. Select the topics which interest you.

6068 6287 6301 6308 6309 6311 6328 6337 6348 6384 6386 6388 6391 6398 6399 6410 6514 6515 6517 6531 6669 6673

Why Has the U.S. Congress Done So Little About UNRWA?

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.[1] 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... [D]espite 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.

AIPAC's Silence

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.

Israel's Strange Bedfellow

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 the 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 Agency (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.

Other Reasons why UNRWA Is Immune

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]

UNRWA Washington representative Matthew A. Reynolds

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]

Israel Is the Key

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.

The Cause of the Problem

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.

Congressional shaming of UNRWA has not been enough to remedy its deep-seated problems.

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.

A Way Out of the Impasse?

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]

UNRWA practices are in conflict with the black letter laws of the United States.

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."

A Strategy to Move Forward

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.

Appendix: Congressional Resolutions on UNRWA

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 UNWRA 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.

Result: None yet.

[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).

# reads: 929

Original piece is

Printable version


Articles RSS Feed