(17 August 2021) The US attempts to redefine UNRWA’s mandate and deny Palestinian refugees rights under the guise of anti-terrorism measures

PR/EN/170821/19 

The United States (US) has decided to re-establish its funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) through a framework agreement that infringes on its mandate, overrides the authority of the United Nations and breaches the principle of neutrality. On 14 July 2021, UNRWA’s Commissioner General signed an unacceptable politically conditional cooperation agreement with the US Department of State in order to receive funding.

 Under Section 301(c) of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, the US is redefining which Palestinian refugees will be eligible to continue receiving services from UNRWA.  Section 301(c) states that “No contributions by the United States shall be made to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East except on the condition that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency take all possible measures to assure that no part of the United States contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army or any other guerrilla type organization or who has engaged in any act of terrorism.”[1] In addition, this framework agreement includes another binding provision extracted from the so-called Federal Administration of Population, Refugees, and Immigrants Act, which states that UNRWA is prohibited from providing humanitarian assistance or any form of support to anyone within its mandate that may belong to or associated with Palestinian institutions or groups designated as terrorist under US law.

The aforementioned cooperation agreement expands on both the aforementioned pieces of US legislation and imposes a multitude of measures for UNRWA to implement. UNRWA is now required to vet/check its staff, beneficiaries, contractors, vendors and non-state donors every six months. Vetting and checks are also required for the Agency staff’s social media accounts to ensure their adherence to the principle of “neutrality.” UNRWA must submit periodic reports to the US, i.e., it becomes the security agent that monitors, reports and re-classifies who within its mandate is permitted to continue to receive its services. These conditions have already been implemented, resulting in a number of Palestinian staff members of UNRWA losing their positions for association with political parties and/or posts on their social media.  The framework agreement prohibits UNRWA from providing services to refugees who have participated in military training - a broad criterion that would entail those trained by and for the Palestinian Authority. Eventually, this will lead to a reduction in the number of Palestinian refugees eligible for UNRWA services. Additionally, it is a veiled attempt to re-define the beneficiaries of UNRWA’s services, thereby limiting those defined as Palestine refugees, similar to the attempt by the Trump administration in the Deal of Century.[2] 

It also requires UNRWA to increase the annual inspection of all its facilities in all its areas of operation from twice to four times yearly.  Finally, it obliges UNRWA “to identify and take measures to address any content contrary to UN principles in educational materials.”[3] This translates to divesting the Palestinian education curriculum of any reference that is incorrectly perceived to discriminate or incite against Israel, such as reference to historic Palestine and Palestinian history before the existence of Israel in 1948, the Palestinian struggle for liberation and the Nakba. Encouraging international interference in the content of the Palestinian education curriculum based on the reports of  the Zionist-Israeli organization, Impact se, is another approach that Israel has instigated with the European Union recently.[4] 

These conditions imposed by the US on UNRWA in order for the Agency to receive funding constitute political manipulation of funding under the guise of anti-terrorism measures. They are similar to the conditions imposed on Palestinian civil society by the European Union:[5] conditions that were vehemently opposed by the vast majority of Palestinian community-based and non-governmental organizations. Moreover, this anti-terrorism conditioning set in the framework agreement goes in line with the US and EU pressure imposed on the Palestinian Authority to criminalize the Palestinian freedom fighter (political prisoner). These conditions are too related and similar to not belong to an Israeli-influenced strategy designed to criminalize Palestinian resistance and restrict the receipt of aid to organizations and agencies serving the Palestinian people. 

The agreement simultaneously sites the principle of neutrality – “meaning that humanitarian action must not favour any side in an armed conflict or other dispute where such action is carried out”[6] - but in practice has the potential to prevent  UNRWA from providing services to many Palestine refugees falling under its mandate. The framework agreement cites the principles of Good Humanitarian Donorship, while seeming to ignore the section of Article 3 on non-discrimination in providing humanitarian aid and Article 4 which states “Respect and promote the implementation of international humanitarian law, refugee law and human rights.”[7]

The Global Palestinian Refugee Network rejects the imposition of such conditions and measures on the UN mandated Agency created for the sole purpose of proving aid and services to Palestinian refugees and demands that the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the United Nations intervene to halt the use of funding for political manipulation. We call on UNRWA and its Commissioner General to reassess its acceptance of the framework agreement put forth by the United States as it undermines its mandate and violates the principle of neutrality. We also call on Palestinian political parties, popular committees and civil society to protest against these conditions.


[1] U.S. Senate, Pub.L. 87—195, 75 Stat. 424-2, enacted September 4, 1961, Foreign Assistance Act, p. 127, available at: https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Foreign%20Assistance%20Act%20Of%201961.pdf

[2] BADIL, Trump’s So-Called Vision/Deal of the Century: A Move to End the Palestinian Refugee Issue Through Serious Breaches in International Law, Position Paper (Bethlehem: BADIL, 2020), available at: https://www.badil.org/phocadownloadpap/badil-new/publications/research/in-focus/Deal-of-the-Century-Refugee-Issue(PositionPaper-May2020).pdf.

[3] U.S. Department of State, U.S.—UNRWA Framework for Cooperation 2021-2022, p. 3, available at:  https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/2021-2022-US-UNRWA-Framework-Signed.pdf.

[4] BADIL, Israel’s Apartheid-Colonial Education: Subjugating Palestinian Minds and Rights, Working Paper No. 26 (Bethlehem: BADIL, 2020), available at: https://www.badil.org/phocadownloadpap/badil-new/publications/research/in-focus/Deal-of-the-Century-Refugee-Issue(PositionPaper-May2020).pdf

[5] BADIL, European Union Conditional Funding: Its Illegality and Political Implications, position paper (Bethlehem: BADIL, 2020), available at: https://www.badil.org/phocadownloadpap/badil-new/publications/research/in-focus/EuropeanUnionConditionalFunding(PositionPaper-April2020).pdf

[6] Good Humanitarian Donorship, 24 Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship, 2016, available at:  https://www.ghdinitiative.org/ghd/gns/principles-good-practice-of-ghd/principles-good-practice-ghd.html [accessed 17 August 2021].

[7] Ibid.