J Street Welcomes Independent UNRWA Report, Calls for White House Action

April 26, 2024

J Street welcomes the publication this week of a high-level independent report into the operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). While the report found UNRWA had robust, well-developed internal mechanisms, it nevertheless identified steps the agency can take to ensure its commitment to neutrality and to improve operations. UNRWA has welcomed the Colonna report and stated it is “fully committed” to implementing its recommendations.

The committee preparing the report, led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, was not charged with investigating specific allegations by Israel that UNRWA employees took part in the October 7 attack. It did note that the Israeli government has not, to date, provided any evidence to the UN that UNRWA workers belonged to militant groups.

As J Street said in February, we were “deeply disturbed” by allegations that UNRWA staff took part in the October 7 attack. We urged a swift and thorough review with corrective action if appropriate.

The UN has taken the allegations seriously. The Secretary-General asked the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to launch an investigation. Separately, UNRWA itself requested the Colonna review to identify gaps and provide recommendations. The Biden Administration, followed by 15 donor nations, suspended contributions to UNRWA pending the outcome of these investigations.

With the completion of this report and the ongoing failure of the Netanyahu government to provide evidence of its allegations, J Street calls on the Biden Administration to end its administrative suspension of American aid to UNRWA and on Congress to reverse its legislative ban. At a critical moment in this Gaza crisis, UNRWA faces a significant mid-year funding shortfall as a result of funding suspensions. Seven nations have now resumed funding with more expected to do so following this report.

Despite a legislative ban on American funding of UNRWA through March of 2025, the Biden Administration should voice support for UNRWA’s commitment to transparency and reform, encourage other countries to resume funding, press for congressional action to resume funding, and work to find creative, cooperative solutions to ensure aid organizations working in Gaza remain fully funded. The administration should work urgently with funding made available by the new national security supplemental package to ensure humanitarian agencies have the resources they need to address the crisis.

J Street also reiterates our call on the Netanyahu government to cooperate with the OIOS investigation and provide any evidence it may have to ensure allegations of the involvement of UNRWA employees in the October 7 attack – if substantiated – can be properly addressed.

Humanitarian support and the delivery of essential services to families in Gaza is a moral imperative, a legal requirement and crucial for the stability essential to Israel’s security. As Israeli, American and international officials have stated repeatedly, the only organization with the infrastructure and resources capable of distributing the humanitarian assistance civilians in Gaza need at this moment is UNRWA. The Israeli government should heed the warnings of the United States and its own security veterans and cooperate with humanitarian agencies to ensure they have the access and protection needed to address the crisis in Gaza.

The families of Gaza must not be made to pay for the crimes of Hamas. Denying aid agencies the funding they need to operate only inflicts further suffering on the Palestinian population, frustrating the pathway to peace. As UNRWA’s largest donor and Israel’s key security guarantor, the United States has a special obligation to address this crisis.

Read the J Street Policy Center’s full policy proposal related to UNRWA funding here.