Joe Biden’s Sham UNRWA Funding Freeze

Joe Biden
February 7, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Tags: UNRWAPalestineIsraelHamasTerrorism

Joe Biden’s Sham UNRWA Funding Freeze

Quite simply, UNRWA is fundamentally compromised, and its activities are fundamentally at odds with its stated purpose of providing educational, health, and other services to Palestinians. In fact, UNRWA is part of the vicious cycle of violence orchestrated by Hamas


Critics of the U.S. State Department’s “temporary pause” of additional funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA)—after shocking revelations that twelve employees actively participated in the October 7 terrorist attacks in support of Hamas—act as if the UNRWA will suffer a harsh financial blow. It won’t—at least not in the short term.

The pause was widely seen as a dramatic reversal for a Biden administration that restored the funding the Trump administration had ended in 2018 and professed support for UNRWA during the current conflict in Gaza. Indeed, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in November that the Biden administration was working to “expedite assistance” so that UNRWA could continue its “extraordinary lifesaving work.”


However, the State Department followed the secretary’s guidance so expeditiously that the pause turned out to be nothing of the sort. They dispersed the funds appropriated by Congress so effectively that virtually nothing was left by the end of January. According to State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller, the U.S. government had given UNRWA about $121 million, leaving only $300,000 unallocated.

So, 99.8 percent of U.S. funding to UNRWA had already been delivered, leaving only .2 percent to “pause.”

If the United States wanted to send a strong signal of disapproval for UNRWA’s participation in terrorism, this wasn’t it. The message UNRWA and Hamas have received is that the Biden administration’s priority is to keep the U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing into Gaza regardless of their actions. Congress should not tolerate this faux show of holding UNRWA accountable when the ultimate goal is to do the opposite.

Going forward, the pause might impact any future funding the State Department requests from Congress depending “on the investigation that UNRWA is undertaking, that the United Nations is undertaking, and whatever remedial steps they put into place.” But that UN investigation is highly likely influenced by those who want to see funding restored.

After the announced funding pause, UNRWA officials immediately protested that it was unjust and even immoral. Senior officials across the UN system denounced decisions by the United States and other governments to suspend funding. In fact, the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services investigating the UNRWA employees accused of participating in the October 7 attack reports to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who also urged countries to reverse their decisions to suspend UNRWA funding.

Just this week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also appointed former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna to head an independent review group to look into whether UNRWA “is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches that have been made.”

Unfortunately, Colonna has previously revealed her predisposition. On January 12, she sent UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini her “full renewed support for your work, more useful than ever.” Two of the organizations in the review group, the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the Norwegian Chr. Michelsen Institute expressed support for the South African case of genocide against Israel in the International Court of Justice.

This is hardly an unbiased review.

These actions have the appearance of kabuki theatre, with the Biden administration announcing a funding pause that they know will have little if any practical financial impact in the immediate term and counting on the fact that future funding will be blessed by a UN investigation with a thumb on the scale, overseen by an individual who has already announced that funding should be restored. The purpose is to give the appearance that they are taking a tough stand against UNRWA’s unsavory terrorist ties while, in fact, doing nothing of the sort.

Hamas is designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the United States. The UNRWA has a proven record of sympathy for Hamas. It employs Hamas members and has demonstrated vulnerability to extremism, antisemitism, and politicization. Hamas has routinely misused UNRWA facilities, including schools and hospitals, to house weapons, conceal tunnels, and launch attacks. Last year, the Geneva-based nongovernmental organization UN Watch reported numerous examples of “UNRWA’s gross and systematic violations of neutrality and other UN rules in their hiring of teachers and in their use of curricula inside UNRWA schools that constitute incitement to hatred, antisemitism and terrorism.”

Now, it has been revealed that UNRWA is not only complicit with Hamas but also its employees are active participants in their terrorism. Nor were the twelve UNRWA employees who participated in the October 7 attacks and the ongoing hostage situation in Gaza a few bad apples. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Intelligence estimates shared with the U.S. conclude that around 1,200 of UNRWA’s roughly 12,000 employees in Gaza have links to Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

Members of Hamas are barred from entering the United States and face asset freeze and forfeiture. Anyone who participates in their activities or provides them with material support should face significant penalties. Those who provide support—including foreign organizations—can face arrest, as was the case recently with a New Jersey man who attempted to join al-Shabab (another FTO) to wage jihad against America.

Immunities as an international organization may shelter UNRWA from some of these penalties, but at the very least, they are not entitled to more American taxpayer money.

Quite simply, UNRWA is fundamentally compromised, and its activities are fundamentally at odds with its stated purpose of providing educational, health, and other services to Palestinians. In fact, UNRWA is part of the vicious cycle of violence orchestrated by Hamas.

Congress should ensure that all U.S. funding for UNRWA is ended immediately and permanently, regardless of the findings of any self-interested UN body, and should apply particular scrutiny to any funds designated for humanitarian aid in any supplemental request from the Biden administration to ensure that those funds do not go to UNRWA directly or indirectly. While the generous American people want to alleviate the suffering of Gazans, it cannot be done through providing more support for UNRWA.

About the Authors 

Victoria Coates is vice president for foreign policy and national defense at The Heritage Foundation. Follow her on X @VictoriaCoates

Brett D. Schaefer is Heritage’s Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs. Follow him on X @BrettDSchaefer.

Image: Shutterstock.