In-Depth: Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) introduced this bill to limit the amount and scope of United States contributions to UNRWA:
“We must return UNRWA to its original framework and address this false narrative of an inflated refugee population, which has made a mockery of both those who are true refugees around the world and those who are truly living in deplorable conditions throughout the region. This is an important first step to help Palestinians who are truly in need. Palestinians in Gaza are not refugees; they are a population suffering under the Hamas terror regime, whose leaders take aid money and instead of building schools and hospitals, build terror tunnels and send rockets hidden under UNRWA schools in Gaza into kindergartens in Israel. The United States should continue to help these and other needy populations around the world through already-established, appropriately identified humanitarian programs.”
Rep. Lamborn argues that UNRWA inflates its refugee count, and serves as an anti-Semitic and anti-American agency:
“UNRWA's inflated refugee count is intended to increase the number of Palestinians that would receive the so-called right of return. U.S. funds should only go to UNRWA to the extent that they carry out their original mission of resettling refugees. Unfortunately, UNRWA has become another anti-Semitic and anti-American agency at the United Nations. It is time for the United States to address UNRWA's twisted definition of a refugee. This is the first step towards peace in the region."
Foundation for Middle East Peace and Christians United For Israel (CUFI) support this bill. CUFI, at whose annual conference this bill was announced, has fully endorsed this bill as a means to help solve the Palestinian refugee situation. CUFI founder and chairman Pastor John Hagee says:
“UNRWA perpetuates the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by keeping the Palestinians captive as eternal refugees. Those educated on the issue, who truly aim to solve these crises as opposed to enable it, should support UNRWA reform and back this bill.”
Asaf Romirowsky, executive executive director of the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East nonprofit and co-author of the 2013 book Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief, says that reform is long overdue:
“We have seen a complete and total Palestinian takeover of UNRWA is similar to regulatory capture, which occurs when a state regulatory authority is taken over by the interests or industries that it is designed to control. UNRWA is an international agency that is effectively managed by the interests that it is intended to serve.”
Romirowsky says that UNRWA uses “coercive soft power” on international politics and media to shield itself from scrutiny while extending its mandate:
“This has been done in large part by members of the ‘refugee’ population itself working within UNRWA, with the help of the senior international managerial staff. By acting as a pressure group, the organization has thus been able to extend its mandate, and ward off oversight and reform.”
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), says this bill is unacceptable and illegal, and won’t affect the status quo. He argues that the rights of refugees are protected by UN Resolution 194, which cannot be bypassed. The Middle East Monitor, reporting on this bill, points out that that “this would mean the descendants of those violently evicted from their homeland in 1948 would not be eligible for aid in spite of continuing to live as refugees in a foreign country.”
The Palestinian Authority ministry, which opposes this bill, alleges that the Trump administration and its “religious Zionist staff [are] continuing to make a mockery of international law in a bid to impose their positions and policies, which are blindly biased in favor of the Israeli occupation, on the international community with unprecedented arrogance.”
There are 13 cosponsors of this bill, all of whom are Republicans.
Of Note: After the State of Israel’s creation in 1948, the United Nations created the UNRWA to help resettle nearly 600,000 Palestinians who were displaced by the Arab-Israeli Conflict. After 70 years of this work, UNRWA now claims that there are 5.3 million Palestinian refugees in the world, including descendants of those original refugees who live in other nations This definition of “refugee” is inconsistent with how all other refugees in the world are classified, including the definition used by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and the laws concerning refugees in the United States — and critics argue that this has allowed UNRWA to inflate its refugee numbers and get more funding.
Sources familiar with a classified State Department report that counts the number of actual Palestinian refugees say the actual number of refugees is closer to 20,000-30,000 and that U.S. officials have over-classified the report in question in order to prevent public disclosure that could cripple UNRWA.
The U.S. contributes hundreds of millions annually to UNRWA, making up 25% of UNRWA’s annual operating budget. The Trump administration significantly reduced funding to UNRWA earlier in 2018 in an effort to reform the agency, which has long faced accusations of anti-Israel bias and has been accused of providing material support to the Hamas terror group.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStock / akesak)