Khaled Elgindy senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, issues a dire warning at The Hill:
One wouldn’t know it from the headlines, but the next violent eruption in the Gaza Strip may be just around the corner. As most of Washington remains mired in its traditional August doldrums, yet another a potential crisis is brewing in the already isolated and impoverished Gaza Strip. For the past several months, $75 million in badly needed food assistance for Palestinians has been held up in Congress, not because of any bureaucratic or logistical impediments but for purely political reasons. Moreover, if the Biden administration does not act by the end of August, it will likely lead to a further deterioration in the already dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza — with potentially serious security implications for Jordan, Egypt and Israel.
The $75 million, approved by Congress and the State Department earlier this year, is being held up by Idaho Sen. James Risch, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He wants assurances that the funds will not go to terror groups.
Notice anything missing? Yes, the Arab nations are nowhere to be found, and in fact Arab nations provide only a tiny percentage of UNRWA’s budget. The top Arab donor, Qatar, gives a mere 5% of what the USA gave in 2021.
The US already provides more aid to UNRWA than anyone else, over $300 million a year. Why is it obligated to give an additional $75 million, which is more than the entire Arab world combined gives to UNRWA? Where are the angry op-eds demanding that Saudi Arabia or China give tens of millions to UNRWA?
Is this all going to be “food aid”? While the original bill says the $75M was for “food assistance to vulnerable Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza” it cannot be earmarked; UNRWA will simply redirect other moneys to more problematic programs like their schools that teach the beauty of “martyrdom.”
Interestingly, USAID will provide direct food aid – US food products – and food vouchers to countries where cash might go to terrorists. If there is such a looming food crisis, the US can contribute….food. This would also help US farmers and food producers, and it would be more difficult for Hamas to steal the food and resell it, as it does today with UNRWA products. (Obviously there are logistics involved to set up a direct food program, and it takes months to ramp a program like that up, but it could be done for next year.)
Here is the best part of Elgindy’s article:
Despite appeals from the State Department, UNRWA and several Arab governments, Risch shows no sign of budging. “The administration has all the authority they need to provide emergency food assistance to UNRWA,” observed a spokesperson for the senator, adding that Risch “will continue to hold them until his long-term concern about UNRWA are addressed.”
On this, at least, Risch is correct. Biden does indeed have the authority he needs to disburse the funds over Risch’s objections. But this will require taking a stand and expending at least some political capital on an issue—the Palestinians—that has not been a political priority for the administration thus far.
So when a Republican holds up the aid, he is responsible for a looming escalating crisis that may lead to starvation, instability and war. But when Biden chooses not to override the senator, he is merely reluctant to expend political capital.
We are at September 1. Biden didn’t override Risch. Let’s see if the dire warnings come true.
The reality is that UNRWA is unsustainable as it stands right now. Its unique and bizarre definition of “Palestine refugee” ensures that it will need more funds every year forever. Clearly the world is sick of paying for this: in June a pledging conference for UNRWA netted a mere $107 million of the $300 million they wanted.
The solution is simple. Take 2 million Palestinians who are Jordanian citizens off the rolls. (Provide additional funding for the Kingdom of Jordan for a few years so that government can do its job and take responsibility for its own citizens’ education, medical and housing needs.) That slashes UNRWA’s budget by some 35%.
Later, do the same for Palestinians who live in the area of British Mandate Palestine, who are not “refugees” by any measure. They are the proper responsibility of the Palestinian Authority which provides schooling and medical services for its citizens – except for the “refugees,” an absurd discrimination that the world doesn’t seem to mind. That’s about 40% more of its budget.
The Palestinians who are still in real need – the ones in Lebanon and Syria – really do deserve funding even though they aren’t refugees either, but they have no government on their side. However, political pressure should be put on those countries to allow the Palestinians who have lived there for seven decades to become naturalized like any other Arabs can.
People who care about Palestinians should not object to any of these ideas. But, as we know, the world doesn’t care about Palestinians unless they can be used as propaganda tools – “refugees” – to damage Israel.