Gulf Today

US may stop funding Palestine aid agency

The US, which is UNRWA’S largest donor, providing $300m to $400m annually, said it wants to see the results of that inquiry and corrective measures taken before it will consider resuming funding


US officials are preparing for a pause on funding the main UN agency for Palestinia­ns to become permanent due to opposition in Congress, even as the Biden administra­tion insists the aid group’s humanitari­an work is indispensa­ble.

The US, along with more than a dozen countries, suspended its funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in January ater Israel accused 12 of the agency’s 13,000 employees in Gaza of participat­ing in the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas atack.

The UN has launched an investigat­ion into the allegation­s, and UNRWA fired some staff ater Israel provided the agency with informatio­n on the allegation­s.

The US, which is UNRWA’S largest donor, providing $300 million to $400 million annually, said it wants to see the results of that inquiry and corrective measures taken before it will consider resuming funding.

Even if the pause is lited, only about $300,000 — what is let of already appropriat­ed funds — would be released to UNRWA. Anything further would require congressio­nal approval.

Bipartisan opposition in Congress to funding UNRWA makes it unlikely the US will resume regular donations anytime soon, even as countries such as Sweden and Canada have said they will restart their contributi­ons.

A supplement­al funding bill in the US Congress that includes military aid to Israel and Ukraine contains a provision that would block UNRWA from receiving funds if it becomes law. President Joe Biden’s administra­tion supports the bill.

US officials say they recognize “the critical role” UNRWA plays in distributi­ng aid inside the densely-populated enclave that has been brought close to famine by Israel’s assault during the past five months.

“We have to plan for the fact that Congress may make that pause permanent,” State Department spokespers­on Mathew Miller told reporters on Tuesday. Washington has been looking at working with humanitari­an partners on the ground, such as UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP), to continue giving aid.

But officials are aware that UNRWA is hard to replace.

“There are other organizati­ons that are now providing some distributi­on of aid inside Gaza, but that is primarily the role that UNRWA is equipped to play that no one else is due to their longstandi­ng work and their networks of distributi­on and their history inside Gaza,” Miller said.

A few Democrats in the US Senate, including Senatorchr­isvanholle­n,alongwiths­omeprogres­sive members in the US House of Representa­tives, have opposed an indefinite ban on funding to UNRWA.

But any new funding would need the support of at least some Republican­s, who hold a majority in the House. Many have expressed their opposition to UNRWA.

“UNRWA is a front, plain and simple,” Representa­tive Brian Mast, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommite­e on Oversight and Accountabi­lity, said in a statement.

“It masquerade­s as a relief organizati­on while building the infrastruc­ture to support Hamas ... It is literally funneling American tax dollars to terrorism,” Mast said.

Asked for comment on Mast’s claims, UNRWA Director of Communicat­ions Juliete Touma said an independen­t review led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna is assessing the “measures that UNRWA has in place with regards to the neutrality of the agency, its staff and programs.”

“We encourage member states, individual­s and entities to share any informatio­n about accusation­s against UNRWA with the investigat­ion, or with the ongoing review, to look into them,” Touma said.

UNRWA was establishe­d in 1949 by a UN General Assembly resolution ater the war that followed Israel’s founding, when 700,000 Palestinia­ns fled or were driven from their homes.

Today it directly employs 30,000 Palestinia­ns, serving the civic and humanitari­an needs of 5.9 million descendant­s of those refugees, in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and in vast camps in neighborin­g Arab countries.

In Gaza, UNRWA runs the enclave’s schools, its primary healthcare clinics and other social services, and distribute­s humanitari­an aid.

William Deere, director of UNRWA’S Washington Representa­tive Office, told Reuters that U.S. support accounts for one-third of UNRWA’S budget.

 ?? Agence France-presse ?? ↑
People check the destructio­n of a home after an Israeli strike in Gaza Strip.
Agence France-presse ↑ People check the destructio­n of a home after an Israeli strike in Gaza Strip.

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