Senator Murphy Suckered into Defunding UNRWA

by Stanley Heller, Administrator, Promoting Enduring Peace

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has provided food, education, and more for Palestinian refugees since 1948.

Israeli government leaders have tried to weaken or destroy it as a way of pressuring Palestinians into giving up their rights. At the end of January, the Israeli government had an anti-UNRWA propaganda campaign ready for what they knew would be a devastating decision against their actions in Gaza by the International Court of Justice. The Israelis alleged 12 members of UNRWA had taken part in the Oct. 7 attack from Gaza. It sent the charges and names of the 12 to Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s commissioner general. He tried to appease the Israelis by acting before any evidence behind the charges was given.

Instead of cooling things down, this caused the charges to seem more credible, leading to Biden’s suspension of aid. This seems quite boneheaded on the part of Lazzarini, but he was between a rock and a hard place. According to an interview in The Guardian: “He said an Israeli bank account belonging to UNRWA had been frozen and the agency had been warned that its tax benefits would be canceled. Lazzarini added that a consignment of food aid from Turkey, including flour, chickpeas, rice, sugar and cooking oil, that would sustain 1.1 million people for a month, had been blocked at the Israeli port of Ashdod. He claimed the contractor said the Israeli authorities had instructed the company not to move it or accept any payment from a Palestinian bank.” So his heart was in the right place, but his actions helped produce the disaster.

Republicans and Democrats created H.R. 815 (formerly known as the “Revive Act”) which included a section forbidding any money going to UNRWA from the US government (its biggest contributor). The lead negotiator for the Democrats was U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut. On Feb. 2 he had called UNRWA “indispensable.” Yet days later he made the deal to cripple it. On PBS he said he did it to appease Republicans so they wouldn’t block humanitarian aid to Gaza. He also made the far-fetched claim that other agencies could do UNRWA’s work.

The bill passed the Senate and went to the House, where the Republicans hope to take out all the economic and humanitarian aid. Will they also take out the language on UNRWA? Not a chance.

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