GOP leaders want Gaza funds pulled


A group of high-ranking House Republicans are calling on the Senate to remove the $900 million slated to go to the Palestinian Authority and Gaza reconstruction because some of the funds will go through the United National Relief and Works Agency. The five-member group includes House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.),House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.). The fivesome specifically is objecting to UNRWA’s partnership with the Commercial Bank of Syria and tha Arab Bank — the former of which it says is subject to U.S. sanctions and the latter is being sued for assisting terrorists.

Critics have said UNRWA has become politicized and does not properly vet its employees and aid recipients for terrorist ties — although the agency has said it does periodically run names of its employees by Israeli officials. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J) is sponsoring legislation designed to improve the transparency and accountablity of UNRWA. None of the five have signed on to co-sponsor that bill. Here’s the full statement:

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Leader John Boehner, Republican Whip Eric Cantor, Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter called on the Senate to pull funding for UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority from a $410 billion spending bill.  Statement follows:

“The Administration should withdraw its pledge to provide $900 million in bonus funding to the Palestinian Authority and Gaza reconstruction.  These funds are proposed in addition to what is already included in the Omnibus appropriations bill pending in the Senate.  And some of the funds will be going through UNRWA at a time when this UN agency is partnering with banks targeted by the U.S. for their roles in financing violent Islamist militants.

“We need to protect taxpayer funds from finding their way to the Commercial Bank of Syria, an UNRWA partner subject to U.S. sanctions and run by the Syrian regime.  Another UNRWA partner is the Arab Bank, which is under investigation for financing Palestinian militants and suicide bombers responsible for the deaths of Israelis and Americans in Israel. 

“Yet, the Senate is poised to allow millions of taxpayer dollars to go to UNRWA, which also fails to vet its own staff and aid recipients for ties to violent Islamist groups.  The bailouts and spending sprees have become so vast that even violent extremists and their enabling UN agencies are getting a ‘piece of the pie.’

BACKGROUND: UNRWA’s website solicits donations for its “Special Gaza Appeal,” and directs donors to send money to accounts with the Commercial Bank of Syria, which the U.S. Department of the Treasury has designated as a “primary money laundering concern,” and with the Arab Bank, which is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. government for financing Palestinian militant groups.  Treasury also states that the Commercial Bank “has been used by terrorists to move their money and it continues to afford direct opportunities for the Syrian government to facilitate international terrorist activity and money laundering.”  The Arab Bank was reportedly fined $24 million for extremist financing in 2005.

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