Friday, March 27, 2009

ROS-LEHTINEN ET AL.: Cut off Relief Agency

Washington Times

For six decades, the United States has voluntarily contributed billions of dollars to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which was created strictly to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.

In return for our generous investment, UNRWA subverts our laws, aids violent Islamist extremists, propagandizes against our ally Israel and in favor of Hamas, and works with banks targeted by the United States for money laundering and terrorist financing. As our nation faces growing economic challenges, Congress must cut off funding to UNRWA and use our foreign aid to advance, rather than undermine, American interests and values.

Existing U.S. law already restricts funding for UNRWA, requiring it to “take all possible measures” to ensure that our contributions do not aid those who have received training by militant groups or have “engaged in any act of terrorism.” But though the United States remains the largest single contributor to UNRWA, the agency has cavalierly disregarded our standards, and we have not held it accountable.

As a recent report by UNRWA's former general counsel concluded, the agency has continually failed to properly vet staff members and humanitarian aid recipients for ties to foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). UNRWA does not ask personnel or aid recipients if they are members of FTOs, and it screens staff names through a U.N. list that does not include members of Hamas, Fatah's al-Aqsa Brigades or other groups Palestinian extremists would be most likely to join.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd has stated that the agency does not consider those groups to be of concern. Her predecessor, Peter Hansen, proclaimed in 2004, “I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don't see that as a crime.” A number of UNRWA staffers were discovered to be members of FTOs - Awad al-Qiq, a now-deceased rocket-builder, even served as headmaster of a UNRWA school.

UNRWA officials also have compromised their agency's purely humanitarian mission by publicly agitating against Israel and for Hamas. On Dec. 30, Ms. AbuZayd said only that Israel was responsible for the most recent conflict in Gaza, and in mid-January, a UNRWA spokesman called for an investigation on whether Israel had committed a “war crime.”

UNRWA has found even more ways to undermine the integrity of U.S. contributions. Its home page provides a donation portal listing UNRWA accounts at several financial institutions, including the Arab Bank and the Commercial Bank of Syria (CBS), both targeted by the United States for their roles in financing violent extremists.

The Arab Bank reportedly is at the center of U.S. investigations into how tens of millions of dollars have reached Palestinian militant groups that used some of those funds to pay off suicide bombers who have killed Americans in Israel. In 2005, the Arab Bank reportedly agreed to pay the United States $24 million in fines for violating American laws combating terrorist financing.

Worse yet is the CBS. The Treasury Department has designated the bank as an institution “of primary money laundering concern.” Treasury stated in a 2004 press release that “CBS had been used by terrorists and their sympathizers” and that “numerous transactions that may be indicative of terrorist financing and money laundering have been transferred through CBS, including two accounts at CBS that reference a reputed financier for [Osama] bin Laden.”

Despite UNRWA's appalling record, U.S. taxpayer funds continued to flow freely to that agency, including about $185 million for 2008 and almost $100 million authorized so far for 2009. On March 2, the administration announced a further pledge of $900 million in assistance for Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, including $160 million to UNRWA and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

This spending spree must not continue. The United States must withhold all contributions through and to UNRWA until that agency meets a number of conditions to comply with U.S. law and its humanitarian mandate.

We have had enough. American taxpayers deserve better.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida is the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. John A. Boehner of Ohio is the House Republican leader. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia is the House Republican whip. Mike Pence of Indiana is chairman of the House Republican Conference. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan is chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee.

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