US House Foreign Affairs Committee advances bill to end UNRWA funds

The bill prohibits voluntary or involuntary contributions to UNRWA, any successor or related entity.

  • Children attend an UNRWA-run school at the Mar Elias camp for Palestinian refugees in Beirut on February 6, 2024. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced legislation to end contributions by the United States to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The panel advanced the bill, dubbed the Stop Support for UNRWA Act, on Tuesday in a vote of 30-19, amid accusations of the Israeli occupation that 12 of the agency’s employees took part in the Palestinian Resistance’s Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7.

The bill prohibits voluntary or involuntary contributions to UNRWA, any successor or related entity. The bill also prohibits contributions to the regular UN budget for the support of UNRWA or any successor entity.

More than a dozen countries, including major donors the United States, Germany, Britain and Sweden, have suspended funding to UNRWA over the Israeli accusations.

The agency — which has received a Norwegian nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize — has warned it will have to cease operations by the end of the month should funding be significantly pulled.

The UN has announced an audit into UNRWA’s operations saying that it would determine whether the body should be suspended based on the investigation results.

UNRWA’s Commissioner General, Philippe Lazzarini, said during an interview for the Financial Times that “Israel” has not furnished evidence to support its accusations.

Lazzarini, addressing the allegations seriously, stated on Saturday that he could not discuss the ongoing investigation by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services.

The Financial Times, having reviewed the intelligence assessment, reported that “Israel” offered no proof for the accusations, including the claim of an UNRWA staff member kidnapping a woman.

According to The New York Times,  UNRWA is due to be underfunded by a whopping $65 million by the end of February as a result of the suspension of payments.

The NYT cited UNRWA’s internal accounting documents as saying that the agency receives several payments a year, and some countries had already skipped on their parts – among them Finland, who missed a payment worth $5.4 million in January.

Germany, Japan, and Sweden also won’t pay their part in February for a total worth of $60 million, as per the NYT.

Tamara Alrifai, a spokesperson for UNRWA, was quoted as saying that over 30,000 workers across the Middle East next month will not receive their salaries, including 13,000 currently located in Gaza.

It is noteworthy that a statement last week from heads of organizations that form the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee warned that “withdrawing funds from UNRWA is perilous and would result in the collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza, with far-reaching humanitarian and human rights consequences in the occupied Palestinian territory and across the region.”

Read more: Borrell warns against UNRWA fund cuts amid Gaza ‘catastrophic hunger’

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