Skip to main content

Senate Republicans: condition aid to Palestinian refugee agency on reforms

A group of 21 senators called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to tie funding to UNRWA, the UN's Palestinian refugee agency, to "much-needed and meaningful reforms."
Palestinian students gather in front of a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip, on the first day of school after local authorities eased some of the restrictions that were imposed in a bid to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, on Aug. 8, 2020.

A group of Senate Republicans on Thursday called on the Biden administration to call off its planned aid restoration to United Nation’s Palestinian refugee agency until significant reforms are met. 

“We are concerned that this administration’s decision to resume US assistance to UNRWA was made in haste, without any actionable attempt to secure much-needed and meaningful reforms of the agency,” read the letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed by 21 senators. 

Earlier this month, the administration announced it would provide $150 million to support the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), making good on a campaign promise and partially restoring the funding slashed by President Donald Trump more than two years ago. 

The UN agency provides food assistance, health care, schooling and social services to an estimated 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. When Trump ended US funding to UNRWA, the agency lost its biggest donor and was forced to scale back many of its programs. 

In the letter led by Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the senators cited allegations that textbooks used in the agency’s schools have included material that is anti-Semitic. They also referenced occasional reports that UNRWA has employed individuals affiliated with Hamas and that its schools have been used by the Palestinian militant group to store weapons. 

“It is troubling that these issues regarding the impartiality of UNRWA, including its education system, have yet to be sufficiently addressed despite this administration’s decision to restore U.S. funding."

State Department spokesperson Ned Price previously acknowledged  that there are “areas where we’d like to see reform” at UNRWA, stressing that the aid restoration gives the US “a seat at the table” from which to drive the conversation.

The Republican lawmakers called for several conditions to be met before the US resumes aid to UNRWA, including a US government audit of the organization, independent verification that employees are not linked to terrorist groups, and a review of all learning materials through an organization agreed to jointly by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. 

The senators also took aim at UNRWA’s definition of refugee, which includes both refugees displaced from the 1948 war and their descendants. They called on Blinken to halt US assistance until UNRWA releases the number of “true” refugees served by the agency. 

Meanwhile, Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY) have reintroduced legislation that requires the State Department report to Congress annually on school materials used by the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA and whether US aid is funding that curricula.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Palestine Briefing Palestine Briefing

Palestine Briefing

Top Palestine stories in your inbox each week

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial