OpinionIsrael at War

Did UNRWA deceive the Secretary of State to receive US funding?

Since UNRWA has proven it cannot meet the requirements of the Appropriations Act, it would seem the U.S. is positively prohibited from transferring any additional aid to it.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), during a visit at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on Oct. 12, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), during a visit at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on Oct. 12, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch is the director of the Initiative for Palestinian Authority Accountability and Reform in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; a senior legal analyst for Human Rights Voices; and a member of the Israel Defense and Security Forum.

During the last decade, the annual U.S. Consolidated Appropriations Act conditioned U.S. aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) upon written certification from the Secretary of State that the organization satisfies a series of requirements.

One of those criteria requires the Secretary of State to report whether UNRWA complies with section 301(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. That section provides that the United States may not contribute to UNRWA unless the agency is taking “all possible measures to assure that no part of the U.S. contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army or any other guerrilla type organization or who has engaged in any act of terrorism.”

While the “Palestine Liberation Army”—which was the military arm of the PLO—has practically ceased to exist, “other guerrilla type organization[s],” including Hamas, Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and others continue to exist and are actively engaged in acts of terror. All of these organizations, and others, are U.S.-designated terror organizations.

In the aftermath of the Oct. 7 massacre, in which Gazan terrorists murdered more than 1,200 people and committed widescale crimes of rape, torture and abduction, information has come to light indicating that at least 13 UNRWA employees actively participated in the massacre and another 1,200 UNRWA employees are active members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In a press briefing on Jan. 30 explicitly devoted to UNRWA and its connections to the massacre and terror, Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy said:

“UNRWA has been aiding and abetting Hamas…. 13 UN employees participated in the Oct. 7 massacre…. UNRWA is riddled with Hamas members. Our intelligence indicates that out of approximately 12,000 UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip, about 10% are Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives.”

The Biden administration announced on Jan. 26 that it was pausing all future U.S. funding for UNRWA. But, according to Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), the funding pause may have only been implemented after millions in taxpayer funds were pushed out the door.

According to the State Department spokesman, $121 million of UNRWA’s quarterly aid payment had already been provided. Only $300,000 is outstanding on the first tranche.

The U.S. aid to UNRWA is guided not only by American law but also by U.S.-UNRWA “Framework” agreements. The 2023-2024 Framework Agreement, signed May 20, 2023, similar to its predecessors included several fundamental provisions regarding UNRWA compliance with the provisions of section 301(c).

Despite the language of the law, which requires the Secretary of State himself to certify UNRWA compliance, the provisions of the Framework Agreement suggest that UNRWA serves as its own watchdog. The proverbial cat seems to be guarding the cream.

Why was Secretary Blinken unaware of Hamas members in UNRWA?

It is unreasonable to suggest that these 1,200 UNRWA employees were suddenly recruited since Secretary of State Blinken gave the previous certification last year. On the other hand, it is reasonable to assess that he was likely to have been intentionally and maliciously misled by UNRWA and its leadership on the affiliations of UNRWA staff and the recipients of UNRWA aid.

Accordingly, since UNRWA cannot meet the requirements and conditions of the Appropriations Act, particularly the requirements of section 301(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act, it would seem that the United States is positively prohibited from transferring any additional aid to UNRWA.

Furthermore, since the last certifications of Secretary Blinken were based on an intentional deception by UNRWA—in breach of its commitments in the Framework Agreement—the United States should also demand that UNRWA or the United Nations immediately refund all U.S. donations to UNRWA for the past three years at least.

Refraining from acting on this issue would place the United States in an untenable situation where it cannot rely on agreements with the United Nations and its organizations, while breaches of its agreements with them have no consequences. Silence on the subject also raises suspicion that the State Department was negligent, at best, in fulfilling its duties regarding the UNRWA fraud.

Originally published by The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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