Congress is pressuring the State Department to release a long classified report on Palestinian refugees that insiders say could change the calculus on how the United States approaches the situation and allocates millions in taxpayer funds to a key United Nations agency, according to sources and a congressional letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Dozens of members of Congress have already signed on to an effort to force the release of this State Department publication, which sources say was originally classified by the Obama administration in order to keep the findings secret from the American public and lawmakers.
The Free Beacon first reported on the existence of this report in January, when national security insiders first began pressuring the Trump administration to uphold a U.S. law mandating the report be released in public. The report is said to have been marked classified in order to prevent public disclosure that the number of Palestinian refugees is far smaller than the United Nations claims.
Now, months later, the report still remains classified, prompting the large delegation of congressmen to order the State Department to uphold the law and make the report public, according to a draft letter circulating on Capitol Hill and viewed by the Free Beacon.
The report was described to the Free Beacon as a potential tipping point in the debate over the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and its mission, which has come under increased criticism in Congress for what many claim is the agency's anti-Israel bias and routine promotion of pro-terrorism doctrines. The United States decided recently to cut taxpayer funding to UNRWA, the chief Palestinian refugee aid organization, as a result of the group's longstanding anti-Israel bias.
Lawmakers are outraged the refugee report was classified in the first place and are demanding the Trump administration release the information as is required under U.S. law.
"The Obama State Department delivered the mandated report to Congress in classified form despite no apparent national security threat or known historical precedent for classifying such a report," the delegation of lawmakers write. "We believe this classification was inappropriate and a deliberate attempt to conceal information from American taxpayers. The report should be declassified without further delay."
While UNRWA provides support to some 5.3 million Palestinians they claim are refugees, the actual number could be closer to 20,000, according to sources familiar with the report. A disclosure of this nature could shift the narrative with UNRWA and lead the United States to consider cutting even more funding to the agency.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R., Co.), one of the lawmakers leading the declassification effort, told the Free Beacon that Congress must have a complete picture of the Palestinian refugee situation in order to ensure that U.S. taxpayer funds are not being wasted.
"It is critical that Congress investigates the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which operates under the United Nations (UN) using a different definition of a refugee for Palestinians than all other UN refugees around the world," Lamborn said.
"Americans have sent UNRWA billions of dollars over the years to help bring peace to the region, but instead the agency has perpetuated a victimhood mentality for Palestinians," Lamborn said. "Releasing this report to the American public is an important first step in recognizing reality in this difficult situation and bringing about much needed reform to UNRWA."
The United States has provided some one billion dollars to UNRWA over the last four years. The total expenditure is nearly six billion dollars since UNRWA was founded in 1950.
Lawmakers who signed the letter to force declassification are concerned that U.S. taxpayer dollars continue to be wasted on an organization that they believe is operating under a false mandate.
"We are concerned that hard-earned American taxpayer dollars are not being used properly," the lawmakers write. "Your withholding of funds from UNRWA in January on the condition that they reform was a tremendous first step. American taxpayers deserve to know how their tax dollars are spent on Palestinian refugees and their descendants."
The original refugee report was legally mandated in 2012 under a congressional spending bill. The original bill instructed the State Department to report to Congress on the actual number of people who receive UNRWA's refugee services, as well as what their place of residence was during the early conflicts that led to the establishment of Israel in 1948.
In 2015, the Obama administration finally produced the report, but marked it classified in what lawmakers and others believe was an attempt to suppress information revealing the number of actual Palestinian refugees is far lower than UNRWA claims to the public.
E.J Kimball, director of the Israel Victory Project for the Middle East Forum, an organization that advises members of Congress on such matters, told the Free Beacon that declassification of the report could change the debate when it comes to UNRWA and its mandate.
"We, taxpayers, deserve to have our money spent towards resolving conflicts, not perpetuating them," Kimball said. "The declassification of this report can help bring the Palestinian-Israeli conflict closer to conclusion. President Trump's leadership on Jerusalem has started this process. Ending the UNRWA mythology of 5.3 million ‘refugees' will continue moving towards that end."