The House Foreign Affairs Committee conducted a markup session on Tuesday to review legislation, which includes the Stop Support for UNRWA Act of 2024. The bill aims to prohibit aid that directly benefits Hamas.
Last month, Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability, introduced the bill in collaboration with Rep. Adam Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC).
In a separate move in October, Mast presented another bill that seeks to block US funding or any form of assistance for Gaza or the West Bank.
The Content of the Bill
The original text of Mast’s UNRWA bill explicitly prohibits the United States from making any voluntary or involuntary contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (referred to as “UNRWA”). This restriction extends to any potential successor or related entity and the regular budget of the United Nations intended for the support of UNRWA or a successor entity.
In the course of Tuesday’s meeting, Representative Smith introduced an amendment with the intention of providing further clarity to the legislation. According to Smith, the amendment is designed to emphasize that nothing within the act should be interpreted in a way that prevents the delivery of humanitarian assistance. This assistance, as clarified by the amendment, could be facilitated through any agency or entity other than UNRWA. The amendment aims to ensure flexibility in providing necessary humanitarian aid while maintaining the specified restrictions outlined in Mast’s original bill.
According to Smith, the amendment mandates the secretary of state to attest to Congress that any designated agency does not endorse, advocate for, or associate with entities or individuals that endorse violence, terrorism, or antisemitism.
With a vote of 30-19, the amendment was successfully adopted. The schedule for the committee to address the overall bill remains uncertain at this time.
During an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Mast expressed his view that it would be detrimental foreign policy for the US to assist an entity engaged in conflict with its ally.
Highlighting the ongoing conflict between the US ally and the non-ally, Mast emphasized the peculiar situation of funding an entity composed predominantly of individuals from the non-ally, indirectly supporting them in the conflict. According to Mast, this financial support raises questions about the coherence of such a strategy.
Mast argued that the US is not faced with a binary choice between providing aid or not but rather a decision regarding the route through which American tax dollars are channeled, be it through UNRWA, the UN, or non-government organizations.
He pointed out that the option to continue aid remains open, suggesting that other nations supporting UNRWA could step in and cover the US share. Mast acknowledged the differing perspectives on Israel’s alliance, stating that if other nations don’t view Israel as a strong ally, they are free to continue their support.
Despite opposition from Democrats on the committee, with Rep. Gregory Meeks expressing concerns about the potential impact on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Mast stands firm on his position. He believes that supporting both sides of a conflict is irresponsible, even if it may be in Israel’s interest to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Gaza.
Mast criticized his Democratic colleagues on the subcommittee, noting their reluctance to defend UNRWA’s actions while simultaneously resisting defunding the agency.
Nevertheless, Mast recognized that a shift in opinion regarding the organization is occurring among some of his Democratic colleagues. “It’s a significant shift to hear members on the other side express that they may not currently agree with my stance on cutting UNRWA funding today, but some are contemplating cutting them off in a year or a similar timeframe. While I may find that timeline too extended, it’s remarkable to hear them entertain such thoughts,” Mast conveyed to the media.