Biden Admin Announces $50 Million in New UNRWA Funding
by Andrew Bernard
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday announced $50 million in new funding for a UN agency that is dedicated solely to the descendants of Palestinian refugees and which has been widely denounced for propagating antisemitism, eliciting rebuke from a top Senate Republican.
Speaking in Ramallah alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Blinken said that the money, alongside the $890 million the Biden administration has already provided to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) in the past two years, was intended to “rebuild” the relationship between the US and the Palestinian Authority.
“All of these steps are part of the longer term ambition to re-establish, but then not just re-establish, rebuild our relationship, as I said, with the Palestinian people and with the Palestinian Authority,” Blinken said. “And this will allow us to more effectively work toward the goal of Palestinians and Israelis enjoying equal measures of democracy, of opportunity, of dignity in their lives. We believe that that can be achieved by a realization of two states. President Biden remains committed to that goal.”
Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, slammed the move Wednesday.
“The Biden Administration is far too eager to give out US taxpayer dollars to UNRWA,” Risch told The Algemeiner. “I do not support a single US taxpayer dollar going to UNRWA without serious reform, in part because their textbooks continue time and again to include antisemitic content. That is why I will be re-introducing my UNRWA Accountability & Transparency Act which would halt funding to UNRWA until all of its antisemitic issues are thoroughly addressed.”
UNWRA was created in 1947 to assist the Arab refugees from Israel’s 1947-48 War of Independence. UNRWA has been maintained in subsequent decades as a body dedicated to the descendants of the original 700,000 refugees, who presently number five million and are served by UNRWA centers in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Critics of UNRWA say the agency lacks transparency and is counterproductive to achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
“US taxpayers deserve to know what they’re getting for nearly a billion dollars over the last two years provided to an unaccountable, unaudited UN agency that foments antisemitism, hinders the chances for peace, subsidizes members of terrorist organizations and prevents the Palestinians from taking responsibility for their own people,” Richard Goldberg, Senior Advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former official on the National Security Council during the Trump administration said.
UNRWA presented its annual appeal for funding in January, saying that it seeks to raise $1.6 billion for its operations in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The United States is typically the largest annual donor to UNRWA, but cut off funding to the agency during the Trump administration.
“We believe that this UN agency for so-called ‘refugees’ should not exist in its current format,” said Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, in 2021. “UNRWA schools regularly use materials that incite against Israel and the twisted definition used by the agency to determine who is a ‘refugee’ only perpetuates the conflict.”
Blinken’s remarks conclude a three-day visit to the region, but he said that senior State department officials would stay in Israel working to defuse tensions.
“Across my meetings with Israel’s Government, the Palestinian Authority, our partners in Cairo, I heard a deep concern about the current trajectory,” Blinken said. “But I also heard constructive ideas for practical steps that each side can take to lower the temperature, to foster greater cooperation, to bolster people’s security. And so I’ve asked senior members of my team to stay on in the region and continue discussions on how these steps might actually be advanced.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday before Blinken’s arrival published a six-point plan in response to a pair of Palestinian terrorist attacks in Jerusalem that left seven Israelis dead.
“In response to the despicable terror attacks and the happy celebrations that followed them, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided on steps to strengthen the settlement that will be brought this week,” Netanyahu posted on Facebook. The plan also called for accelerating the issuance of gun licenses for Israeli citizens and for “widespread arrests and targeted operations” to seize illegal weapons in the West Bank.