By Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, senior
Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, John A. Boehner of Ohio,
House Republican leader, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, House
Republican whip, Mike Pence of Indiana, chairman of the House Republican
Conference, Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, chairman of the House
Republican Policy Committee.
March 26, 2009.
For six decades, the United States has voluntarily contributed billions of dollars
to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which was created
strictly to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.
In return for our generous investment, UNRWA subverts our laws, aids violent
Islamist extremists, propagandizes against our ally Israel and in favor of Hamas,
and works with banks targeted by the United States for money laundering and
As our nation faces growing economic challenges, Congress must cut off
funding to UNRWA and use our foreign aid to advance, rather than undermine,
American interests and values.
Existing U.S. law already restricts funding for UNRWA, requiring it to “take all
possible measures” to ensure that our contributions do not aid those who have
received training by militant groups or have “engaged in any act of terrorism”.
But though the United States remains the largest single contributor to
UNRWA, the agency has cavalierly disregarded our standards, and we have not
held it accountable.
As a recent report by UNRWA’s former general counsel concluded, the agency
has continually failed to properly vet staff members and humanitarian aid
recipients for ties to foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). UNRWA does not
ask personnel or aid recipients if they are members of FTOs, and it screens staff
names through a U.N. list that does not include members of Hamas, Fatah’s
al-Aqsa Brigades or other groups Palestinian extremists would be most likely to
UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd has stated that the agency does
not consider those groups to be of concern. Her predecessor, Peter Hansen,
proclaimed in 2004, “I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA
payroll and I don’t see that as a crime.” A number of UNRWA staffers were
discovered to be members of FTOs – Awad al-Qiq, a now-deceased
rocket-builder, even served as headmaster of a UNRWA school.
UNRWA officials also have compromised their agency’s purely humanitarian
mission by publicly agitating against Israel and for Hamas. On Dec. 30, Ms.
AbuZayd said only that Israel was responsible for the most recent conflict in
Gaza, and in mid-January, a UNRWA spokesman called for an investigation on
whether Israel had committed a “war crime”.
UNRWA has found even more ways to undermine the integrity of U.S.
contributions. Its home page provides a donation portal listing UNRWA
accounts at several financial institutions, including the Arab Bank and the
Commercial Bank of Syria (CBS), both targeted by the United States for their
roles in financing violent extremists.
The Arab Bank reportedly is at the center of U.S. investigations into how tens
of millions of dollars have reached Palestinian militant groups that used some of
those funds to pay off suicide bombers who have killed Americans in Israel. In
2005, the Arab Bank reportedly agreed to pay the United States $24 million in
fines for violating American laws combating terrorist financing.
Worse yet is the CBS. The Treasury Department has designated the bank as an
institution “of primary money laundering concern”. Treasury stated in a 2004
press release that “CBS had been used by terrorists and their sympathizers” and
that “numerous transactions that may be indicative of terrorist financing and
money laundering have been transferred through CBS, including two accounts
at CBS that reference a reputed financier for bin Laden.”
Despite UNRWA’s appalling record, U.S. taxpayer funds continued to flow
freely to that agency, including about $185 million for 2008 and almost $100
million authorized so far for 2009. On March 2, the administration announced a
further pledge of $900 million in assistance for Gaza and the Palestinian
Authority, including $160 million to UNRWA and the International Committee of
the Red Cross.
This spending spree must not continue. The United States must withhold all
contributions through and to UNRWA until that agency meets a number of
conditions to comply with U.S. law and its humanitarian mandate.
We have had enough. American taxpayers deserve better.