Congressmen try to restrict Gaza funds

House urges UNRWA to name its employees in order to ensure that none of them are terrorists.

kids digging gaza 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
kids digging gaza 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
US lawmakers are seeking restrictions on US funding for $900 million in proposed reconstruction and humanitarian aid for the Palestinians over concerns that the money might wind up in the hands of terrorist groups. Sources on Capitol Hill told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that negotiations over restrictions could complicate the process and potentially delay getting aid to organizations on the ground. "In general, there will be a desire on the part of Congress to work with the administration and give them the flexibility they need to conduct foreign policy," said one Congressional staffer. The sticking point, he said, would be to ensure that none of those funds end up helping terrorists. "I'm sure there will be questions - as there always are with regard to this kind of aid - about transparency, vetting, and auditing to make sure money doesn't fall into the wrong hands." US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged the American assistance to Gaza last weekend at an international donors' conference in Sharm e-Sheikh, Egypt. But as much as $745 million of the promised aid would have to be approved by Congress. Jewish Democratic congresswoman Shelley Berkley, who represents Las Vegas, sent a letter to Clinton asking for conditions to be placed on the funds. Her spokesman David Cherry refused to confirm or deny reports that the conditions included the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. Berkley has signed on to resolutions in the past calling for Shalit's release. Clinton spokesman Robert Wood said earlier in the week that the $600 in development aid would go directly to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. The other $300 million would be earmarked for relief in Gaza. Meanwhile, nearly two dozen members of the House of Representatives have signed on to a resolution, sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Steve Rothman, calling for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza (UNRWA) to publish lists of its employees in order to assure donors that it does not employ terrorists. He said at a press conference Thursday that he introduced the resolution "to ensure that not one cent of US taxpayer dollars provided to UNRWA is redirected to terrorists, or to activities that support terror or promote a culture of hatred." The resolution has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. It came as a former attorney for the UN agency published a report saying it does little to check whether its staff or clients are linked to terrorist groups. UNRWA has repeatedly denied allegations that its facilities have been used to store or transport materiel for terrorist groups. A spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon declined to comment on the US negotiations over funding. Ban has traveled to member states in the past month soliciting aid for Gaza and has repeatedly appealed to large funders to continue their assistance via a UN "flash appeal" for Gaza. The United States provides more than 20 percent of UNRWA's annual budget.