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APN Legislative Round-Up - January 30, 2009

1. Bills and Resolutions; 2. Second House Letter on Gaza Humanitarian crisis; 3. Turning Up the Heat on UNRWA after Gaza War?; 4. A Long History of Attacks on UNRWA; 5. Leahy on Gaza - One Family's Tragedy

...for the week ending January 30, 2009

1. Bills and Resolutions
2. Second House Letter on Gaza Humanitarian crisis
3. Turning Up the Heat on UNRWA after Gaza War?
4. A Long History of Attacks on UNRWA
5. Leahy on Gaza - One Family's Tragedy

1. Bills and Resolutions

(UNRWA) H. Con. Res. 29: Introduced 1/29/09 by Rep. Rothman (D-NJ) and 7 cosponsors, "Expressing the sense of Congress that the United Nations should take immediate steps to improve the transparency and accountability of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in the Near East to ensure that it is not providing funding, employment, or other support to terrorists." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(EGYPT) HR 696: Introduced 1/26/09 by Rep. Weiner (D-NY), "To prohibit United States military assistance for Egypt and to express the sense of Congress that the amount of military assistance that would have been provided for Egypt for a fiscal year should be provided in the form of economic support fund assistance." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

2. Second House Letter on Gaza Humanitarian crisis

On January 28, 2009, a group of 63 members of Congress, led by Rep. John Olver (D-MA), sent a letter to Secretary Clinton to express "deep concern for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and to request immediate action by the United States to address this crisis." The letter is copied below, or can be seen online at: http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/ma01_olver/Gazaclintonletter.html). This letter comes on the heels of another Congressional letter sent 1/9/09 expressing concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. For text of that letter, see: http://www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/ca23_capps/morenews/pr010909_gaza.shtml

Text of the 1/28/09 letter

Dear Secretary Clinton:

First, we would like to congratulate you on being sworn in as our nation's 67th Secretary of State. We are very hopeful that this new era in American foreign policy upon which we embark can advance the cause of peace in the Middle East and beyond.

As strong supporters of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, we are writing to express our deep concern for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and to request immediate action by the United States to address this crisis. With the ceasefire now in effect, it is critical that the United States play a leading role in alleviating the suffering of civilians in Gaza and we respectfully urge your assistance in this task.

As you know, the situation on the ground is dire. The flow of humanitarian goods into the Gaza Strip is limited to food and medicine. Yet there exists a real need to allow for the importation of construction materials and fuel, which require the opening of crossings into Gaza. For example, only the Karni Crossing has the capacity for transporting large cargo, such as cement, but it remains closed.

In addition, in order to rebuild civilian infrastructure in Gaza the international community is going to have to make significant monetary contributions. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) estimates financial needs of nearly $350 million just to rebuild their own infrastructure and continue providing essential services to the Palestinians in Gaza.

We also remain especially concerned about the desperate condition of medical services in Gaza .Although Israel has begun to allow limited medical supplies into Gaza, the need far outweighs the availability while hospitals remain understaffed and ill-supplied. One of the most crucial steps that needs to be taken is for Israel to allow critically ill patients to be transported out of Gaza and into Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, where they may receive necessary medical care. We therefore urge you to express this concern directly to Israeli government officials.

In addition to the several thousand individuals who were physically injured during the recent military operations, we can expect to see a dramatic increase in the number of individuals suffering from psychological trauma. In order to help the population to begin rebuilding, we will need to further ensure that funds are used to provide adequate mental health services in Gaza.

Failure to address this humanitarian emergency has the potential to produce a crisis of even more unspeakable proportions. We therefore respectfully request that the State Department release emergency funds to UNRWA for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance. We believe the State Department can make funds available through accounts such as Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) and urge you to facilitate the transfer of funds as soon as possible.

We look forward to maintaining a productive and ongoing dialogue with the State Department and the Obama Administration regarding the United States response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Toward that end we respectfully request that you or your staff share with us prior to Congress recessing on February 13, 2009, the actions taken to date and the strategy you will pursue to address the humanitarian crisis.

Finally, we know that addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole is a top priority of the Obama Administration and we applaud President Obama and you for your early and public commitment to meet this challenge. We also believe that the naming of former Senator George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East is commendable. We believe the security interests of both Israel and the United States will be greatly enhanced by the establishment of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and that United States involvement is indispensable in achieving that goal. We stand ready to work with you as the Administration furthers these efforts.

Signers: Olver (D-MA), plus: Abercrombie (D-HI), Baird (D-WA), Baldwi (D-WI), Blumenauer (D-OR), Braley (D-IA), Capps (D-CA), Capuano (D-MA), Carson (D-IN), Clarke (D-NY), Connolly (D-VA), Conyers. (D-MI), Davis, Danny (D-IL), DeFazio (D-OR), Delahunt (D-MA), DeLauro (D-CT), Dingell (D-MI), Doggett (D-TX), Edwards (D-MA), Ellison (D-MN), Eshoo (D-OH), Farr (D-CA), Filner (D-CA), Grijalva (D-AZ), Hinchey (D-NY), Holt (D-NJ), Honda (D-CA), Johnson (D-GA) , Kaptur (D-OH), Kilpatrick (D-MI), Kilroy (D-OH), Kucinich (D-OH), Lee (D-CA), Lewis (D-GA), Lynch (D-MA), Maffei (D-NY), Massa (D-NY), McCollum (D-MN) , McDermott (D-WA), McGovern (D-MA), Michaud (D-ME), Miller (D-CA), Moore (D-WI), Moran (D-VA), Murphy (D-CT), Nye (D-VA), Oberstar (D-MN), Pascrell (D-NJ), Payne (D-NJ), Perriello (D-VA), Pomeroy (D-ND), Price (D-NC), Rahall (D-WV), Sanchez, Loretta (D-CA), Sestak (D-PA), Speier (D-CA), Stark (D-CA), Thompson (D-CA), Tierney (D-MA), Waters (D-CA), Watson (D-CA), Welch (D-VT), Woolsey (D-CA), Yarmuth (D-KY)

3. Turning Up the Heat on UNRWA after Gaza War

In the wake of the Gaza war it appears that some members of Congress and various outside groups have decided that now is a good time to renew the perennial anti-UNRWA campaign.

On 1/27/09, a Dear Colleague letter circulated (possibly in response to the Olver letter, which explicitly mentions supporting UNRWA) by indefatigable UNRWA critics Steve Rothman (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). The Rothman-Kirk Dear Colleague invites members to cosign a letter to Secretary Clinton calling for "moratorium on U.S. contributions to UNRWA until the GAO reports back to Congress" with respect to UNRWA's efforts to ensure that it does not aid or employ terrorists (a report mandated in 2008 by Congress, and due to be published in the coming months). The Dear Colleague omits any mention of or even indirect reference to the current desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza, the impact cutting off U.S. aid to UNRWA at this time would have on the ground, or the attacks on UNRWA facilities by Israel during the war which, among other things, destroyed food and medical supplies paid for by UN members states, including the United States. The Dear Colleague continues to circulate as of this writing, and has so far attracted only a small number of co-signers: Rothman (D-NJ), Klein (D-FL), Garrett (R-NJ), Berkley (D-NV), Shuster (R-PA), Tauscher (D-CA), Foxx (R-NC), Price (R-GA), and Conaway (R-TX).

Also on 1/27/09, a Dear Colleague was circulated by Rep. Rothman urging members to cosponsor a resolution he intended to introduce to "Ensure Terrorists are Not Employed by or Receive Benefits from UNRWA." The resolution, H. Con. Res. 29, was subsequently introduced on 1/29/09 with 7 cosponsors: Berkley (D-NV), Burton (R-IN), Engel (D-NY), Garrett (R-NJ), Kirk (R-IL), Myrick (R-NC), and Tauscher (D-CA). Like the Rothman-Kirk Dear Colleague, the resolution - a well-rehearsed laundry list of criticisms of UNRWA operations and accusations/implications of mismanagement and involvement/support for terror - includes no mention of or even indirect reference to the current crisis in Gaza or the attacks on UNRWA facilities by Israel during the war. The Dear Colleague circulated with the resolution notes that the resolution is supported by AIPAC and the ZOA. The Rothman press release on the resolution can be read at: http://www.rothman.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1037&Itemid=1

In addition, on 1/30/09, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations held a special briefing call for member organizations featuring Rep. Rothman talking about UNRWA and the resolution. 

Interestingly, on 1/26/09 the Washington Institute for Near East Policy released a new report entitled "FIXING UNRWA: Repairing the UN's Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees." The report was authored by James G. Lindsay, a former legal advisor and general counsel with UNRWA. Some are portraying the paper an insider's indictment of UNRWA; indeed, the headline in the online edition of the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot read: "UNRWA PAYS TERRORISTS" (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3662945,00.html), despite the fact that in the section dealing with this issue, the Lindsay states that ".of the nearly 5,000 area staff in the West Bank and 10,000 in Gaza, few have been convicted of terrorism-related charges. Moreover, the relatively few examples of staff involvement in anti-Israeli violence that critics often cite are, for the most part, not clearly convincing." Interestingly, Lindsay also directly challenges earlier Rothman-Kirk criticisms that focused on the demand for an outside audit of UNRWA -- Lindsay confirms the UN Board of Auditors' status as an "independent auditor" and concludes that "the push for private outside auditors was probably a distraction, useful only as an argument by those who, based on other issues, wished to de-fund UNRWA ." The report may be downloaded at: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC04.php?CID=306

Finally, against this backdrop, today (1/30/09) the Obama Administration announced $20.3 million in Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) "to address critical post-conflict humanitarian needs in Gaza." This includes $13.5 million to UNRWA, $6 million to the ICRC, and $800,000 to OCHA. The press release announcing the emergency aid is available at: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/01/115587.htm

4. A Long History of Attacking UNRWA

Many new members of Congress may be unaware that attacks on UNRWA have been a constant in Congress (mainly in the House) for many years.  Certainly demands for reasonable levels of oversight and accountability of US taxpayer funds are legitimate, with respect to UNRWA or any other recipient Demands for such accountability have, over the years, been reflected in legislation requiring GAO reports (a comprehensive GAO report was published in 2003 and as noted above, another GAO report is due in the coming months), as well as in various conditions and certifications demanded by the U.S. government.

However, as APN has communicated to Congress many times in the context of the various anti-UNRWA campaigns, "For many years there have been efforts in Congress to attack UNRWA, reflecting at least in part the view that there would be no Palestinian refugee problem if UNRWA did not exist to sustain the issue. This ill-conceived strategy cannot succeed. The issue of Palestinian refugees has been recognized by all parties as an integral part of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and all parties, including Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S., have defined it as one of the key 'final status issues' that must be resolved through negotiations. Efforts to bypass such negotiations by attacking UNRWA will likely exacerbate the crisis on the ground and undermine the interests and policies of both the U.S. and Israel. Such efforts must therefore be rejected."

Examples of past Congressional attacks and actions related to UNRWA (excerpted from past Legislative Round-Ups) are included here:

>APN Legislative Round-Up: week ending September 26, 2008

(UNRWA) H. Con. Res. 428: Introduced 9/24/08 by Rep. Rothman (D-NJ) and 5 cosponsors, "Expressing the sense of Congress that the United Nations should take immediate steps to improve the transparency and accountability of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in the Near East to ensure that it is not providing funding, employment, or other support to terrorists." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

>APN Legislative Round-Up: week ending January 18, 2008

On 1/17/08, Rep. Weldon (R-FL), took to the House floor to engage in his own UNRWA-bashing (i.e., blaming UNRWA for creating/perpetuating the Palestinian refugee issue, and accusing UNRWA of supporting terror) and to endorse a "peace plan" proposed by Israeli far right-wing legislator Benny Elon - a plan that essentially rejects the possibility of ANY Israeli-Palestinian peace process, arguing instead that, in effect, "Jordan is Palestine," there is no real Palestinian refugee problem, and Israel can both have peace (with Jordan, representing the Palestinians) while annexing the entire West Bank for its own use. Weldon characterized this plan as a plan "to bridge the longstanding divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians.a comprehensive proposal for finding an avenue to peace, as well as addressing the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people." Weldon argued that ".the Elon plan is simple. Working cooperatively with nations around the world, Israel and the international community will assist the Palestinian refugees to find new homes outside the camps. Why should Palestinians continue to languish? Support the Elon plan."

>APN Legislative Round-Up: week ending December 14, 2007

On the heels of the Annapolis peace conference and in the countdown to the upcoming Paris donors' meeting (to mobilize support for President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad's efforts), there is a renewed focus on Palestinian aid in the House. On December 11th, Rep. Kirk (R-IL), a longtime and outspoken foe of UNRWA, accompanied by Reps. Knollenberg (R-MI) and Tauscher (D-CA), launched yet another in a series of attacks on UNRWA. This time, the attack comes in the form of a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to Secretary Rice, and taking aim at $35 million for UNRWA requested by the Administration in the FY07 Supplemental. The letter reiterates Kirk's longstanding allegations of UNRWA supposed misuse of funds, alleged tolerance for terrorism, and alleged unwillingness to come clean about its misdeeds. The letter also reiterates Kirk's oft-repeated demand for an "outside, independent audit" of UNRWA, apparently based on the argument that the existing UN audit mechanisms, while acceptable for every other UN agency, are insufficient and untrustworthy when it comes to UNRWA (and ignoring the fact that UN rules, as endorsed by the United States, prohibit such an audit). The letter in effect opposes U.S. funding for UNRWA operations until his concerns are addressed, including in Lebanon (where Palestinian refugees are in acute crisis following the outbreak of extremist-led violence earlier this year in some refugees camps), and in Gaza (where the international siege against Hamas is creating a massive humanitarian crisis - one which Israel is relying on UNRWA to a great extent to address). It is worth noting that Rep. Kirk and other members of the Committee have received assurances and clarifications in writing from the Department of State to the effect that no U.S. monies provided to UNRWA through its emergency appeals (which is what the $35 million is for) was used in 2007 for cash assistance in the West Bank or Gaza.

>APN Legislative Round-Up: for the week ending June 22, 2007

[with respect to the FY08 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill] A planned amendment from Rep. Pence (R-IN), ranking minority member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, regarding a prohibition of funds for U.S. contributions to UNRWA, was not introduced. Given that the centerpiece of the Bush Administration's current response to the Gaza/West Bank crisis is a $40 million contribution to UNRWA, there is speculation that the Administration may have prevailed on Rep. Pence to refrain from attacking UNRWA at this particular time.

>APN Legislative Round-Up: week ending May 26, 2006

During the May 25th mark-up of the FY07 ForOps bill, two Middle East-related issues (and three related amendments) were proposed.

UNRWA -- Rep. Kirk (R-IL) offered an amendment to require an outside audit of UNRWA. Rep. Rothman (D-NJ) cosponsored the amendment. Rep. Kirk made an impassioned statement in support of his amendment, portraying it as a simple exercise in accountability. He emphasized the large sums of money the U.S. has provided to UNRWA over the years, compared to the very small sums provided by Arab countries. Using the UN High Commissioner of Refugees as a comparison, he alleged that UNRWA's employment rolls are clearly bloated, with an apparently ridiculously high ratio of employees to people served. He argued that UNRWA does not vet each recipient of benefits to ensure that they have not been "convicted of terrorism." He also told his colleagues on the Committee that he had worked with Israel and AIPAC in drafting the measure.

ForOps Chairman Kolbe (R-AZ) spoke forcefully in opposition to the amendment, noting that while it looked simple and straightforward, it actually contained some "hidden" things. He noted that, for example, what is being presented as a simple audit requirement actually could shut down UNRWA operations, since the requirement would be impossible to implement. It would be impossible because of an agreement between all members of the UN, including the U.S., that unilateral audits are not permitted. Rather, audits are conducted by the UN, in a manner approved by the U.S. Indeed, this audit policy is part of the UN reforms the U.S. has been trying to achieve. Kolbe also noted that the facts are not exactly how they are being presented. Regarding the staffing issue, for example, Kolbe said he had been struck by the statistics regarding the ratio of employees to people serves at UNRWA vs. UNHCR - a statistic that Kirk had also raised during Subcommittee mark-up last week. Kolbe said he was so concerned that he did some research, and discovered that the disparity in numbers reflects the fact that UNHCR relies almost entirely on contractors for their work in the field, while URNWA uses no contractors, and relies entirely on direct employees of the agency. So the comparison between UNRWA and UNHCR - which makes it appear that UNRWA is bloated and inefficient in comparison to UNHCR, is actually entirely misleading.

The Kirk amendment was defeated by a vote of 36-21.

>APN Legislative Round-Up: week ending May 19, 2006

Throughout the week APN heard reports that Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) planned to introduce an UNRWA-related amendment to the FY07 ForOps bill during the May 19th mark-up (an amendment similar to HR 5278, which he introduced May 3rd). In the end, no such amendment was introduced; it remains possible that he will seek to do something with this language in the future.

Acting on these reports, on May 18th APN circulated a statement to the House regarding UNRWA. These talking points address the overall issue of attacks on UNRWA, and apply not only to the hypothetical amendment, but also to HR 5278:

"Tomorrow the House Appropriations Committee's Foreign Operations Subcommittee will likely consider an amendment to the FY07 ForOps bill offered by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) attacking the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This amendment is similar to HR 5278, introduced earlier this month by Rep. Kirk, and follows up on language attacking the UN included in HR 4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which is expected to be on the House floor next week.

"Americans for Peace Now (APN) urges the Subcommittee to reject this amendment, and urges all Members to reject this and other efforts to undermine, weaken, and de-legitimize UNRWA and other UN efforts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Such efforts are misguided and do not serve the best interests of Israel or the United States. APN is the premier address for American Jews who support Israel and support the quest for peace.

"Attacking UNRWA at this time of acute and growing humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza is wholly inconsistent with the policies of the government of Israel and the Bush Administration. It also conflicts with the many statements from Congress and the Administration that the goal of current U.S. policy is to pressure Hamas, not punish the civilian population of the West Bank and Gaza - the majority of whom did not vote for Hamas, and the majority of whom are under the age of 18. Indeed, according to UNDP's 2004 Human Development Report, 46% of the population of the West Bank and Gaza is under the age of 15; 18% of these children are under the age of 5.

"In its March 31st issue, Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper noted that 'Israel has asked the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees to expand its humanitarian program in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, setting aside criticism of the organization it accused of siding with militants. Israel's request to UNRWA could see the agency assisting Palestinians who are not refugees, Israeli officials and UN diplomats said.' Noting that relations with UNRWA had improved, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev is quoted in the same article as stating, 'Because we won't be working with a Hamas-controlled government, we are looking at different alternatives and one that's being discussed is UNRWA, which has an infrastructure in place to deliver aid.'

"On April 7th, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch noted, 'UNRWA is -- for us...an attractive vehicle because it has experience on the ground. We have some accountability mechanisms with which we have some experience in making sure our money gets to the right place and is not misused. And in addition, it's immediately available. ...At least in the immediate term they can also use the assistance if it's provided to them, and it's very quick-acting in that regard. Also, UNRWA services two-thirds of the population in Gaza and one-third of the population in the West Bank, in addition to diaspora communities as well. That's a pretty substantial population pool. So if we're directing our attention to supporting the Palestinian people, we think this would be an effective and quick-acting vehicle to do so.'

"UNRWA has long played a vital role as a source of stability and humanitarian assistance - food, medical care, education - to a population in severe crisis, not only in the West Bank and Gaza, but also in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. This role is even more vital today, with the massive international pressure being brought to bear on the Palestinian people in the wake of the January 2006 elections which brought Hamas to power.

"The continued effective operations of UNRWA - until such time as a permanent and mutually acceptable solution for the Palestinians refugees can be achieved - is vital to the security interests of both the U.S. and Israel, offering the chance for maintaining some degree of stability in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and staving off the outbreak of a wholly-avoidable and potentially catastrophic humanitarian disaster.

"For many years there have been efforts in Congress to attack UNRWA, reflecting at least in part the view that there would be no Palestinian refugee problem if UNRWA did not exist to sustain the issue. This ill-conceived strategy cannot succeed. The issue of Palestinian refugees has been recognized by all parties as an integral part of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and all parties, including Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S., have defined it as one of the key 'final status issues' that must be resolved through negotiations. Efforts to bypass such negotiations by attacking UNRWA will likely exacerbate the crisis on the ground and undermine the interests and policies of both the U.S. and Israel. Such efforts must therefore be rejected."

>APN Legislative Round-Up: week ending May 5, 2006

(UNRWA) HR 5278: Introduced May 3, 2006, by Rep. Kirk (R-IL), Lantos (D-CA), Pence (R-IN), and Rothman (D-NJ), "To amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to assist Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza to move to post-refugee status, and for other purposes." Referred to the House International Relations Committee. As noted earlier, it is rumored that the sponsors of HR 5278 hope to turn their bill into an amendment to HR 4681.

The bill would bar U.S. voluntary contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) unless the President made a required certification or exercised a national security waiver. The certification, which would need to be recertified every 3 months, would require the President to confirm that UNRWA is not an impediment resolving the Palestinian refugees issue and is subject to outside financial audits. He would also have to certify that UNRWA is not knowingly providing any form of assistance to members of foreign terrorist organizations, and that it is not promoting anti-Semitism or denial of Israel's right to exist. The bill also would require the Secretary of State to provide an annual report to Congress explaining how the continued existence and operations of UNRWA serves U.S. interests, including a determination of whether UNRWA perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem. The report would also have to include, among other things, a U.S.-drafted plan for, effectively, a long-term resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue and the phasing out of UNRWA.

>APN Legislative Round-Up: week ending March 17, 2006

(UNRWA) On March 10th an invitation was sent to Capitol Hill staff from JINSA - the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs - inviting them to a program regarding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The event is being cosponsored by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN). The invitation notice includes bullet point "facts" about UNRWA, which include quotations marks around all references to "refugees" and include facts like "UNRWA's mandate is to keep Palestinians a 'refugee population' and thus tools in a continuing struggle to de-legitimize and ultimately eliminate Israel." The panel comes on the heels of a panel at last week's AIPAC conference entitled "UNRWA Examined - Has the U.N. Entity Created for the Palestinians Outlived Its Mandate?" That panel featured Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL). The JINSA event also coincides with a multi-part, extremely critical report on UNRWA being published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA).

>APN Legislative Round-Up: week ending September 30, 2005

THE UN & UNRWA UNDER FIRE

In the HIRC: On September 27th the House International Relations Committee (HIRC) held a hearing entitled "Prospects for UN Reform & Hyde Bill," featuring U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as the sole witness. The hearing featured a strong denouncement of the treatment of Israel at the UN by HIRC ranking Democrat Tom Lantos (D-CA), who argued in his opening statement that "...the politics of the United Nations are still crippled by an anachronistic block on non-aligned nations whose mission life is to castigate Israel and the United States and to undermine all of the important work the United Nations should be doing for peace and global security..." It also featured extensive discussion of Syria and Lebanon. Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the hearing saw an exchange between HIRC/Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ambassador Bolton regarding the role of UN agencies dealing with the Palestinians, and in particular, the future of UNRWA (the UN Refugee and Works Agency):

ROS-LEHTINEN: "...And my third question, Mr. Ambassador, is merging the United Nations Commission on Human Rights with UNRWA. Do you agree that the functions of these two bodies are duplicative and that funding does not appear to correspond to the needs of these organizations? In your discussion in New York, have you raised the possibility of changing the interpretation and the application of the 1951 Refugee Convention to include Palestinians with other refugee groups? And do you think that it would make sense for the UNHCR to provide the services that are now provided by UNRWA to merge these two?"

BOLTON: "...On UNRWA, this is actually a subject of discussion. And I think it's appropriate now that we're beginning to think about what to do with UNRWA as we get to a two-state solution. And there's certainly no fixed position on it. But I recall the somewhat analogous situation of Cambodian refugees in Thailand when a separate agency, UNBRO, the U.N. Board of Relief Organization, was created to deal with that problem. When the status of Cambodia was resolved in the early 1990s, all the refugees went back into Cambodia, UNBRO was abolished. The question, whether it's UNDP, for example, as an arm of the U.N. that provides development assistance to a new Palestinian state or whether it's some other combination, is something that needs to be addressed. And we discussed in New York. I discussed it myself with Alvaro DeSoto, the secretary general's Middle East representative. I think it's time now to consider -- we don't have a view as to what it should be, but it's a question that's legitimate to raise and that would benefit from some thought by everybody as the Palestinians move hopefully toward a democratic Palestinian state."

In the Media: The September 29th edition of the national Jewish newspaper, The Forward, carried an op-ed by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen strongly attacking UNRWA's past performance, accusing UNRWA of supporting terrorism, and arguing for UNRWA dissolution.

APN on UNRWA: In May 2003, in response to a similar attack on UNRWA in the HIRC, APN issued a statement regarding UNRWA. That statement, which remains valid today read:

"Efforts to undermine, weaken, and de-legitimize UNRWA are misguided and do not serve the best interests of Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan or the United States...We expect and demand that UNRWA take all measures within its power to ensure that its facilities and resources are not used to support or facilitate terror. At the same time, we recognize that UNRWA lacks any mandate or resources to enforce security. UNRWA cannot reasonably be expected to undertake a security role that, in the case of the West Bank and Gaza, is clearly the responsibility of either Israel or the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, UNRWA plays a vital role in providing humanitarian assistance - food, medical care, education - to a population in severe crisis. It is a primary source of stability and vital humanitarian aid for Palestinians - not only in the West Bank and Gaza, but also in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. It does this even today, at a time of acute humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza and of extreme political fragility in the region in part resulting from the U.S. military action in Iraq.

"The continued effective operations of UNRWA - until such time as a permanent and mutually acceptable solution for the Palestinians refugees can be achieved - serves the security interests of Israel by imparting some degree of stability, while relieving Israel of the responsibility of trying to manage and pay the costs of dealing with a potentially catastrophic humanitarian crisis. It is also serves U.S. and Israeli interests in the region, particularly in Jordan, where a potentially restive Palestinian refugee population could pose a threat to that country's government and security and threaten Israel's heretofore secure eastern border; and in Lebanon, where the refugees are unwelcome and unsupported by the Lebanese government, and where they could further destabilize Israel's northern border.

"The issue of Palestinian refugees cannot be resolved by attacking the UN's approach to them. This explosive issue has been defined by all parties - including Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S. - as a "final status issue." Any lasting solution will be found in the context of peace negotiations. Efforts to bypass a mutually-acceptable solution - one of the key goals of any peace negotiations - are doomed to fail and will likely exacerbate the conflict."

>APN Legislative Round-Up: week ending June 24, 2005

On June 17th the House passed HR 2745, the "Henry J. Hyde United Nations Reform Act of 2005" by a vote of 221-184. The bill, which requires sweeping reform at the UN and mandates the withholding of US funding for the UN if the President fails to certify compliance with each of the listed requirements, now goes to the Senate. In addition, this section amends current law regarding U.S. participation in the UN (22 U.S.C. 287e-3) to limit the U.S. contribution to any of the programs listed in this section, and specifically mandates that "The Secretary of State may not make a contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in an amount greater than the highest contribution to UNRWA made by an Arab country, but may not exceed 22 percent of the total budget of UNRWA."

The limitation on funding for UNRWA was proposed in a floor amendment by Rep. King (R-IA). Speaking in support of the amendment, which was subsequently adopted by a voice vote, Rep. Lantos (D-CA) stated:

"...it is sickening, Mr. Chairman, that Saudi Arabia and much of the Arab world, cynically ignoring this situation, continue to lecture to us that we are not doing enough to help the Palestinian people. Mr. Chairman, this amendment stops short of prescribing the range of reforms to which I believe UNRWA needs to be subjected. It must do a better job of ensuring that its assistance does not go to anyone who engages in terrorism, as U.S. law requires; that their textbooks need to be rewritten to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace; that UNRWA needs to stop perpetuating a culture of camps and dependency. It must promote programs to encourage Palestinians to leave the refugee camps that are a breeding ground for misery and terrorism and build a prosperous life on the outside. Soon I will propose comprehensive reform of UNRWA, but today is not that day. For today, I only want to rationalize the process of supporting the UNRWA budget. I do not want to take one penny of humanitarian aid from the Palestinians, nor do I want to increase the burden on a state like Jordan, which has done so much, far more than any other Arab state to help Palestinian refugees. Mr. Chairman, I simply want to see oil-rich Arab states pay a small portion of their fair share, and I want to see the U.S. taxpayer treated with respect. Our amendment makes an important start toward accomplishing these goals. I urge all of my colleagues to support this amendment."

>APN Legislative Round-Up: week ending April 22, 2005

On April 20th the House International Relations Committee's Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia held a hearing on the Middle East and the United Nations - with much of the hearing was devoted to criticizing the UN for its positions vis a vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The hearing also re-hashed harsh criticisms that the UN, through the activities of UNRWA, is responsible for perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem.

>APN Legislative Round-Up: for the weeks ending July 7th & August 1st, 2003

[In the context of the debate of that year's Foreign Operations Appropriations bill]: Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduced and argued forcefully in support of an amendment that would have withheld one-third of the U.S. contribution to UNRWA "until the President determines and certifies to Congress that UNRWA has established a program (including a timeline for implementation of the program) for the resettlement of refugees under their authority in the host countries or territories of such refugees and replaces textbooks and educational materials used in the UNRWA educational system that promote anti-Semitism, denial of the existence and the right to exist of the state of Israel, and exacerbate stereotypes and tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis." The amendment was ruled "out of order" since it proposed to change existing law, violating the rules governing appropriations bills.

>APN Legislative Round-Up: week ending May 9, 2003:

HIRC MARKS UP FY04/05 FOREIGN RELATIONS AUTHORIZATION ACT (aka, the State Dept. Authorization bill): The committee adopted an amendment offered by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Lantos (D-CA) blasting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) -- the UN agency in charge of providing assistance to Palestinian refugees for more than 50 years. This Sense of Congress accuses UNRWA of failing to make an effort to permanently resettle Palestinian refugees (something that is not in UNRWA's mandate) "in order to ensure the perpetuation of the problem of Palestinian refugees." It expresses "outrage over credible reports" (not cited) that UNRWA facilities "have been used for terrorist training and bases for terrorist operations, with little attempt by UNRWA to stop or oppose such attacks (note: UNRWA has no mandate or resources for carrying out any security-related functions). It also expresses "deep concern" about textbooks and educational materials used in URNWA-run schools that allegedly promote anti-Semitism, denial of the existence and right to exist of Israel, and "exacerbate stereotypes and tensions between Palestinians and Israelis."

The measure strongly urges the Secretary General of the UN to take immediate steps to "comprehensively reform" UNRWA so that it "actively works to oppose terrorist attacks and actively works to promote reconciliation and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians." (note: It seems unlikely that the Committee intends this statement as support for changing UNRWA's mandate to include a security component.) It urges the Secretary of State to make UNRWA reform a priority at the UN and to actively campaign for such reforms, and it encourages the ongoing GAO audit of UNRWA (required in the FY03 ForOp bill) to include "an investigation and inspection of all recent United States aid to UNRWA to ensure that taxpayer funds are being spent effectively and are not directly or indirectly supporting terrorism, anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish (sic) teachings, or the glorification or incitement of violence."

APN issued a statement urging HIRC members to reject this misguided amendment, saying:

"Efforts to undermine, weaken, and de-legitimize UNRWA are misguided and do not serve the best interests of Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan or the United States...We expect and demand that UNRWA take all measures within its power to ensure that its facilities and resources are not used to support or facilitate terror. At the same time, we recognize that UNRWA lacks any mandate or resources to enforce security. UNRWA cannot reasonably be expected to undertake a security role that, in the case of the West Bank and Gaza, is clearly the responsibility of either Israel or the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, UNRWA plays a vital role in providing humanitarian assistance - food, medical care, education -- to a population in severe crisis. It is a primary source of stability and vital humanitarian aid for Palestinians -- not only in the West Bank and Gaza, but also in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. It does this even today, at a time of acute humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza and of extreme political fragility in the region in part resulting from the U.S. military action in Iraq.

"The continued effective operations of UNRWA -- until such time as a permanent and mutually acceptable solution for the Palestinians refugees can be achieved -- serves the security interests of Israel by imparting some degree of stability, while relieving Israel of the responsibility of trying to manage and pay the costs of dealing with a potentially catastrophic humanitarian crisis. It is also serves U.S. and Israeli interests in the region, particularly in Jordan, where a potentially restive Palestinian refugee population could pose a threat to that country's government and security and threaten Israel's heretofore secure eastern border; and in Lebanon, where the refugees are unwelcome and unsupported by the Lebanese government, and where they could further destabilize Israel's northern border.

"The issue of Palestinian refugees cannot be resolved by attacking the UN's approach to them. This explosive issue has been defined by all parties -- including Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S. -- as a "final status issue." Any lasting solution will be found in the context of peace negotiations. Efforts to bypass a mutually-acceptable solution -- one of the key goals of any peace negotiations -- are doomed to fail and will likely exacerbate the conflict."

>APN Legislative Round-Up: Week Ending June 7, 2002

It is worth noting that during the House debate over the aid to the West Bank and Gaza, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) inserted into the record his May 23rd letter to Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, in which he alluded to confirmation he had received from Burns that none of the $50 million in disaster relief for the Palestinians would be made available to the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA, the UN body responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees, has recently been the focus of strong criticism in Congress and from outside groups alleging that the organization abetted Palestinian terror. On May 13th, House International Relations Committee Ranking Minority Member Tom Lantos (D-CA) sent a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan alleging that "it is difficult to escape the painful conclusion that UNRWA, directly or indirectly, is complicit in terrorism." Rep. Lantos concludes, in addition, that "for too long, UNRWA has been part of the problem, rather than the solution, in the Middle East."

4. Leahy on Gaza - One Family's Tragedy

On 1/28/09 Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) made the following statement on the Senate floor:  Mr. President, we have all seen the photographs of houses, schools and other civilian infrastructure destroyed in Gaza, and the reports of civilian deaths, including over 400 children, and many thousands more injured. Behind each of these statistics is a story of a family tragedy. I want to take this opportunity to talk about one that has touched the lives of Vermonters, and which should cause each of us deep concern.

Amer Shurrab is a recent graduate of Middlebury College, which is located not very far from my home in Vermont. Amer is also a Palestinian, whose family was living in Gaza during the recent Israeli invasion. His father, Muhammed Kassab Shurrah, is a farmer who grows fruits and vegetables on a small plot of land.

On January 16, Amer's father and brothers were returning home with provisions from their farm during the 3-hour humanitarian cease-fire that was in effect that day. Although there was apparently no indication that the route was unsafe for a civilian vehicle carrying civilian passengers, Israeli soldiers fired from a civilian house at their car as it passed for reasons that remain unknown. In a panic, Amer's brother, Kassab, already wounded, got out of the vehicle and was shot a total of 18 times and died a short distance away. Israeli bullets also hit Amer's father and younger brother Ibrahim, who were unable to leave the car to get medical attention because Israeli soldiers refused to allow movement in or out of the area.

Muhammed tried everything he could to save his son Ibrahim, who was bleeding to death before his eyes. He phoned a hospital with his cell phone, but the hospital told him the Israeli Army was preventing an ambulance from reaching them. He called relatives, who contacted the Red Cross on his behalf to ask for assistance, but the Red Cross had to wait for assurance from Israeli authorities that an ambulance would get through unscathed, assurance which was not forthcoming. He spoke with several members of the press, including the BBC, who even broadcast his plea for help. But an ambulance could not reach them until 22 hours after the incident, even though the hospital was located less than a mile away. By this time, Ibrahim had died in his father's arms. Israeli troops reportedly looked on and ignored Muhammed's pleas for help.  This case cries out for an immediate, thorough, credible and transparent investigation by the Israeli Government. Any individuals determined to have violated the laws of war should be prosecuted and appropriately punished. In addition, it is important that the U.S. Embassy determine whether any Israeli soldiers who were equipped by the U.S. violated U.S. laws or agreements governing the use of U.S. equipment, both in relation to this incident and others involving civilian casualties. This should include the use of white phosphorous in heavily populated areas, which is alleged to have caused serious injuries to civilians.

Mr. President, this is a heartbreaking story. My thoughts and prayers go out to Amer Shurrab and his family and friends, and to the families of other civilians, Palestinian and Israeli, who died or suffered other grievous losses in this latest escalation of violence.


For more information contact Lara Friedman, APN Director of Policy and Government Relations, at 202/728-1893, or at lfriedman@peacenow.org.