US Should Hold the Line on Palestinian Pursuit of UN Membership

COMMENTARY Global Politics

US Should Hold the Line on Palestinian Pursuit of UN Membership

Oct 23rd, 2014 3 min read

Commentary By

James Phillips

Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation

Brett D. Schaefer

Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs

Here we go again. This week, Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has threatened that his government will apply for membership to 522 international organizations and statutes if the United States vetoes a U.N. Security Council resolution, presented last month by Jordan on behalf of Palestine and the Arab Group, establishing a “a timetable to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” by November 2016.

This is the latest facet of this strategy, which it has pursued for several years.

  • The Palestinians sought U.N. membership in 2011. The Obama administration threatened to veto, and it failed to garner support in the Security Council.
  • Shortly thereafter, UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, granted full membership to the Palestinians over U.S. objections.
  • In November 2012, the U.N. General Assembly elevated “Palestine” to non-member observer state status, again over U.S. objections.
  • On April 1, 2015, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed letters of accession to 15 multilateral treaties and conventions.

The Palestinian Authority is pursuing this tactic for several reasons:

  • To demonstrate through repeated votes Israel’s unpopularity internationally;
  • To use membership in those bodies, if they achieve it, to condemn and harass Israel and its polices as it has done in UNESCO;
  • To avoid negotiating a peace in which the Palestinians would have to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state; and
  • To leverage U.S. support for the United Nations and its affiliated organizations to undermine American support for Israel.

As for the last reason, current U.S. law contains two restrictions that prohibit U.S. funding of any U.N. organization that “accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states” or “grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.” Thus, if the Palestinian Authority gains full membership in the U.N. or one of its affiliated organizations, the U.S. must suspend financial support as it did with UNESCO in 2011.

The Palestinian Authority knows this, and its cynical strategy over the past several years is designed to exploit the law to frustrate the U.S. Either the U.S. changes the law and implicitly endorses Palestinian membership efforts, or it faces the prospect of suspending funding for U.N. organizations and activities that it wants to support and receiving the criticism that is sure to follow.

This latest threat violates the Palestinian Authority’s previous agreement to suspend efforts to seek full membership in U.N. specialized agencies and join multilateral treaties and conventions. It also contravenes U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and the U.N.-sponsored Road Map for Peace, as well as other U.N. statements that call for a Palestinian state and delineation of borders through a negotiated agreement with Israel.

Nonetheless, whether out of sympathy for the Palestinian cause, animus towards Israel or pessimistic recognition that the PA does not care about the broader impact of the loss of U.S. funding to these U.N. organizations, the Obama administration has sought to change U.S. laws to allow funding of U.N. organizations that grant full membership to the Palestinians.

This would be a mistake. Capitulation by the U.S. will only encourage the Palestinian Authority’s intransigence. If the U.S. eliminates, modifies or otherwise weakens its own laws to allow contributions to U.N. bodies despite Palestinian membership, the U.S. would effectively encourage these organizations to grant the Palestinians membership.

The U.S. needs to send a clear signal to the Palestinian Authority that its tactics will not work. Washington should veto the resolution should it be raised in the Security Council, inform U.N. organizations that U.S. funding will cease in accordance to the law should they grant full membership to the Palestinians and adamantly underscore to Palestinian leaders that the only avenue to Palestinian statehood that will receive American support is an honest peace negotiation with Israel.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal