US congressional committee proposes eliminating Special Representative for Palestine

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  June 26, 2023

Draft budget proposal would also eliminate funding to the UN, citing ‘anti-Israel bias’.

An annual funding bill being hashed out in Congress aims to eliminate the office of the Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs at the US State Department.

The draft funding bill was passed by the House Appropriations Committee’s state, foreign operations and related programs subcommittee. The bill must pass through both the House of Representatives and Senate before it becomes law.

The post of representative for Palestinian affairs was created by the Biden administration in 2022. It was viewed as an attempt to upgrade Washington’s ties with the Palestinians, particularly the embattled Palestinian Authority, which faces flagging support in the occupied West Bank. US diplomat Hady Amr currently holds the position.

Eliminating the special envoy’s office is just one measure the bill calls for as the Republican-controlled House looks to change the Biden administration’s approach to foreign policy.

In its current form, the 2024 budget proposal would eliminate funding for the United Nations’ general budget after lawmakers zeroed in on the organization’s position on Israel.

“Israel is routinely attacked and undermined across the entire UN system, while the world’s worst human rights abusers remain, frankly, relatively untouched,” Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who chairs the subcommittee, said during the bill’s debate on Friday.

“It should come as no surprise that no funds are included in this bill for the UN regular budget. The ineffectiveness and the egregious failures of the United Nations and UN bodies do not merit support,” he added. 

The total cut would amount to $707m dollars. Although the US would continue to fund the UN, new guardrails would be put in place. The US is the UN’s largest donor. 

The legislation would ban the US from funding the UN Commission of Inquiry investigating Israel or UNESCO, which the Biden administration wants to rejoin. The Trump administration withdrew from UNESCO, citing “anti-Israel bias”.

Egypt defence ties  

It also requires the secretary of state to certify to Congress that the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is implementing steps to curtail what lawmakers say is content promoting antisemitism, violence or anti-Israel sentiments ahead of funding to the agency. The bill would also look to expand and strengthen vetting related to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), according to a summary released by the subcommittee.

In addition, the House draft would rein in US support for the UN Human Rights Council and demands that the state department accelerate efforts to remove Israel as a permanent agenda on the Council.

Last year, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories submitted a report to the UNHRC, concluding that the situation in Israel and the occupied territories amounted to apartheid.

US military ties also feature prominently in the draft which maintains funding for the US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at $3.3 billion. The draft also proposes $2.05bn in military aid for Egypt and would eliminate human-rights-based conditions on Cairo.

The draft also calls for any nuclear agreement with Iran to be submitted to Congress as a treaty and maintains language in the 2023 appropriations bill that prevents the White House administration from revoking the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ designation as a terrorist organization.

Middle East Eye first reported that Iran and the US were nearing a temporary deal to swap some sanctions relief for reducing Iranian uranium enrichment activities.

In June, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a letter to the White House that “any arrangement or understanding” with Iran not submitted to Congress for review risked breaching US law.