Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the aid agency of being ‘riddled with waste, fraud, and concerns of support to terrorism.’
The United States has provided more than $7.1 billion to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) since the agency was established in 1950, a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report shows.
“The United States is historically the largest financial contributor to UNRWA, with U.S. funding totaling more than $7.1 billion since 1950,” the report reads.
The UNRWA was established in 1949 after the first Arab–Israeli war to provide schooling, primary health care, and humanitarian aid to registered Palestinian refugees located in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
The majority of Gaza’s 2.1 million residents—about 1.4 million to 1.7 million—have been living on humanitarian assistance for decades, the CRS report states.
The Allegation and Responses
An Israeli document shared with UNRWA and international officials details claims that 12 UNRWA workers were allegedly involved in the Oct. 7, 2023, attack on Israel.
Seven were said to have stormed Israeli territory; one helped steal a soldier’s body, and another participated in a kidnapping.
Ten were listed with ties to Hamas and one with an Islamic Jihad militant group, while two of them have now been killed, the document states.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the allegation is “highly credible.”
“With regard to UNRWA, the reports that we got last week—and UNRWA brought them to us—were deeply, deeply troubling,” Mr. Blinken said during a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Jan. 29. “Certainly we’ve not had the—we haven’t had the ability to investigate them ourselves, but they are highly, highly credible.”
The U.N. agency terminated the contracts of the staffers who were allegedly involved in the Hamas attack and opened an investigation.
“Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement. “Anyone who betrays the fundamental values of the United Nations also betrays those whom we serve in Gaza, across the region and elsewhere around the world.”
Countries including the UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Finland joined the United States, Australia, and Canada in pausing funding to the aid agency after the allegations.
Mr. Lazzarini called on the countries to resume the funding for the aid agency.
“The agency remains the largest aid organization in one of the most severe and complex humanitarian crises in the world,” he said. “If the funding remains suspended, we will most likely be forced to shut down our operations by the end of February not only in Gaza but also across the region.”
Trump Cut Off UNRWA Funding
While some argue that the assistance provided through the UNRWA is critical, others cast doubt on the effectiveness and neutrality of the aid agency and called for stricter oversight.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the agency and said that UNRWA “is riddled with waste, fraud, and concerns of support to terrorism.”
Former President Donald Trump halted the funding in 2018 for the UNRWA saying the model is flawed and not sustainable.
The Trump administration provided substantially reduced funding in 2018 and zero funding in 2019 and 2020 to the U.N. agency. However, the Biden administration resumed the funding in April 2021.
“We’re pleased to announce that … we plan to restart the U.S. economic, development, security, and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. It includes … 150 million in humanitarian assistance for the UN Relief Works Agency, or UNRWA,” then-State Department spokesman Ned Price said on April 7, 2021.
The Biden administration acknowledged the concerns about the UNRWA but believes that they can steer the U.N. agency in the right direction by resuming the funding.
“By resuming this assistance today … we can help drive UNRWA in the ways that we think it is in our interest and consistent with our values to do,” Mr. Price said at the time. “Obviously, there are areas where we would like to see reform. We will continue to be in a position, an even greater position to drive and to steer UNRWA in a direction that we think is productive and useful with this step today.”
Reuters contributed to this report.