Senator Lankford Introduces Bill to Reform US Assistance to Palestinians
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK), today introduced the Palestinian Assistance Reform Act (PARA), a bill which seeks to change the way the international community provides assistance to Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
Specifically, the bill would require that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN entity responsible for providing assistance to the Palestinians, adopt a more internationally-recognized definition of “refugee.” Currently, UNRWA’s definition of refugee that differs from other international refugee assistance organizations’ definitions and American law by automatically granting life-long refugee status to the descendants of male Palestinian refugees, regardless of specific circumstances or need. If UNRWA’s definition of a refugee does not change, the bill would allow UNRWA funding to be directed toward other entities providing assistance to the Palestinians in the region.
“American assistance to the Palestinians is an important component of our nation’s engagement in the Middle East, and this bill reinforces that reality,” said Lankford. “We are currently funding an entity that has ensured that a refugee population of several hundreds of thousands 70 years ago has exploded to more than 5 million. This is not sustainable—for American taxpayers, who are asked to finance the welfare of these individuals, for the Palestinians themselves, or for the Israelis. UNRWA’s methodology strains regional tensions more each generation as it increases rather than decreases the number of refugees in the region of Jewish Israelis who, by being registered as a ‘Palestine refugees’ with UNRWA, may be wrongfully implied as having an internationally-sanctioned right to return to Israel.”
Lankford continued, “I saw firsthand during my visit to an UNRWA refugee camp in the West Bank last year how Palestinians living in these camps face discrimination, joblessness, and hopelessness, and are pressured to remain in these camps to present a false narrative to the rest of the world that Palestinians are suffering at the hands of Israel and the US. It makes no sense for the international community to continue to support ‘refugee’ camps in areas like the West Bank, which is thought to be the putative homeland of a future Palestinian state. Clearly, there is an effort to create a narrative—both to the world and to the Palestinians themselves—that Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza must relocate to Israel. In light of these circumstances, I have introduced this bill to provide more direct and useful assistance to the Palestinians and to de-politicize American funding for Palestinian aid. This isn’t about cutting funding for aid to the Palestinians; it’s about providing foreign aid the right way so people’s lives are actually improved and American interests secured. UNRWA is a barrier to peace, and it must be reformed. If it cannot reform, the US should find other ways to help the Palestinians people access education, jobs, and healthcare. Millions of Palestinians grow up without hope, it is time for that to change.”
In 2017, the US contributed $364,265,585 (or 36 percent) to UNRWA’s total budget of $1,006,011,649. Other than the US, the rest of the top-five contributors to UNRWA were all European countries. UNRWA was established by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV) on December 8, 1949.
Lankford serves on the Intelligence Committee and the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee on the Appropriations Committee.