The Obama Administration has announced a huge aid package of
$900 million to help ease the humanitarian plight of Palestinians
in Gaza and to shore up the bankrupt Palestinian Authority (PA).
This surge of soft power is aimed at strengthening Palestinian
moderates and helping to clear the way for revived
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. But as long as Hamas remains free
to rain rockets down on Israel, these ambitions remain little more
than wishful thinking.
Since the 1993 Oslo peace accords, the U.S. has showered $2.2
billion in bilateral aid on the Palestinians, in addition to more
than $3.4 billion for humanitarian aid funneled to the Palestinians
through dysfunctional U.N. organizations since 1950. This aid
- Subsidized the welfare of Palestinian refugees;
- Contributed to a culture of victimization and shrill
anti-Israeli and anti-Western radicalism; and
- Freed up some Palestinian groups to focus on destroying Israel
rather than on providing for and advancing the long-term interests
of the Palestinian people.
Given the searing economic crisis that the United States
presently faces, the Obama Administration should:
- Significantly reduce these overly ambitious aid goals;
- Halt the funding of U.N. agencies that do not adequately screen
their workers for terrorist connections or permit external audits;
- Tighten restrictions on the disbursement of aid to ensure that
the aid will not be diverted for hostile purposes.
A Soft-Headed Soft Power Approach to
Middle East Peace
Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the
Obama Administration's pledge of $900 million in aid at an
international donors conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The aid
package includes $300 million for humanitarian aid to Palestinians
in Gaza, $200 million in budget support for the PA, and $400
million to support the PA's Palestinian Reform and Development Plan
in the West Bank.
The Obama Administration maintains that this massive aid package
will not end up in the pockets of Hamas and other terrorist groups.
It plans to funnel assistance through the PA, NGOs, and U.N.
agencies. But the PA remains a weak and problematic institution
hobbled by corruption, despite recent reforms. And U.N. agencies
often have their own agenda as well as an anti-American and
The largest U.N. body involved with facilitating aid to the
Palestinians is the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian
Refugees (UNRWA), a notoriously opaque and dysfunctional
institution that has been infiltrated by Hamas supporters and other
Palestinian radicals.Even though it receives over a third of a
billion dollars in international funding every year, and despite
recurrent reports of inefficiency and corruption, UNRWA is not
externally or publicly audited. Such lack of accountability is
particularly troubling for an organization that has been
chronically dogged by controversy.
There are numerous reports documenting that UNRWA has been
infiltrated by Hamas terrorists. According to the U.S. Government
Accountability Office (GAO), at least 16 UNRWA staff had been
detained by Israeli authorities for security-related crimes, and
three had been convicted in military courts of terrorism-related
has admitted in the past that Hamas, which the U.S. government has
designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, has been able to
infiltrate the U.N. agency. Peter Hansen, then-commissioner-general
of UNRWA, sparked a political storm in 2004 when he remarked in an
interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that "I am
sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll, and I don't
see that as a crime. Hamas, as a political organization, does not
mean that every member is a militant, and we do not do political
vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against
Specific examples of radicals working for UNRWA are readily
available. For instance, Said Sayyam, the Hamas minister of
interior, worked as a teacher at UNRWA schools in Gaza, while the
headmaster of another UNRWA school, Awas al-Qiq, was the leader of
a cell that build rockets for the Islamic Jihad terrorist group.
Several other UNRWA employees left their jobs to run in the 2006
Palestinian elections as Hamas candidates. Despite the fact that
the United States is the biggest single donor to UNRWA, that agency
continues to resist reform and refuses external audits of its
operations. Incredibly, the UNRWA Web site that includes
information on its "Special Gaza Appeal" instructs donors to send
money through the Commercial Bank of Syria, which has been
sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for money laundering and
suspected involvement in moving money to terrorist groups.
Clearly, the UNRWA bureaucracy takes an extremely lax attitude on
fighting terrorism and should not be trusted to handle aid provided
by the U.S. government.
No Taxpayer Subsidies for Terrorist
Given the penetration of UNRWA and other NGOs by terrorist
groups, the United States must be absolutely sure that its aid does
not end up being diverted. Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) has warned
that "to route $900 million to this area, and let's say that Hamas
was only able to steal 10 percent of that, we would still become
Hamas's second-largest funder after Iran."
Congress needs to scrutinize the Obama Administration's aid
plans to make sure that there is absolutely no chance that funds
provided by American taxpayers end up being pocketed by members of
terrorist groups--a development that would violate section 301c of
the Foreign Assistance Act. The Senate should pull funding for
UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority from the $410 billion spending
bill currently before Congress. And both houses of Congress should
hold hearings and exercise their oversight powers to make sure that
future aid to the Palestinians is dispensed on a more modest scale
via closely vetted NGOs, not through corrupted U.N. bodies
operating at cross-purposes with U.S. foreign policy goals.
Phillips is Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs
in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies,
a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.