Political Poison for the World Health Assembly

Report Public Health

Political Poison for the World Health Assembly

May 8, 1989 4 min read Download Report
Edward L.

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5/8/89 233


The stage has been set for a confrontation as the World Health Assembly convenes this week in Geneva, for its 42nd session. The cause of the problem is the demand by backers of the Palestine Liberation Organization that the PLO be allowed to attend the As s embly as the official representative of "Palestine." The World Health Assembly, comprised of repre- sentatives from all member states of the World Health Organization, is empowered to decide overall policy questions for WHO - including questions of member s hip. It was anticipated on the eve of the Assembly's opening that a majority of the 166 states attending this session is in- % clined to accept the PLO application. The United States, however, is firmly opposed. Secretary of State James Baker warned last w eek that he would "recommend to the President that the United States make no further contributions, voluntary or assessed,; to any international or- ganization which makes any change in the PLO's present status as an observer organization." The matter of w hether there should be a Palestinian state deserves serious consideration. The forum for this consideration, however, is not the World HealthAssembly. Of all the United Nations agencies, many of which are known primarily for their waste and proliferating' bureaucracies, the World Health Organization deservedly may be the most respected. Ile WHO was created to address world health problems. Its often effective work is now threatened to be undermined by the PLO and its backers who want to force the World Hea l th Assembly to confront contentious political - rather than medical or scientific - problems. The Bush Administration is wise in threatening to cut financial support for the WHO if it admits "Palestine." A politicized WHO is of little use to the world. Po l iticization has poisoned the work of other once-useful U.N. agencies; the World Health Assembly should not let it happen to the WHO. Expelling Israel. Ile U.S. government rightfully has declared unequivocally that it will withdraw from any U.N. organizati o n that denies Israel full participation. Senate Concurrent Resolution 68, passed unanimously on April 14, 1982, and House Concurrent Resolution 322, passed a month later by a vote of 401-3, endorsed this policy. By Section 115 of P.L. 98-164, enacted on N o vember 22, 1983, this became law. 11is is no idle threat. In September 198 1, even before the congressional resolutions were passed, the U.S. withdrew from the International Atomic Energy Agency after it expelled Israel, forcing the LAEA to reverse that d e cision. The PLO and its allies in WHO hope to "end run" this U.S. withdrawal threat while effectively achieving the expulsion of Israel. Israel would undoubtedly withdraw from any organization that includes the self-proclaimed Palestinian state, since it claims the territory of Israel as its own. The Palestine National Covenant, charter of the PLO, declares the state of Israel to be legally non-existent. Even the letterhead on which the PLO's application for

membership on the WHO is written displays a ma p of "Palestine" that includes all of Israel within its territory. Yet, if Israel withdrew "voluntarily" from the World Health Assembly and WHO, the PLO backers could urge the U.S. to stay, arguing that Israel was not "expelled." A "State" with No Territo r y. Two other serious problems make the admission of "Palestine" to the World Health Organization unacceptable to the U.S. First, the World Health Organization has no right to recognize an organization with no actual territory under its control as a legiti m ate government. Under the U.N. Charter, only the Security Council - in which the U.S. and other permanent members have veto power - can extend membership and, in effect, recognize nations as legitimate. WHO, like all U.N. agencies, has a charter which lim i ts its membership to legitimate nations. Admitting "Palestine" would make other U.N. organizations more likely to accept the PLO as a state, and would encourage the other terrorist organizations recognized by the U.N. as representatives of their people, s u ch as the African National Congress and the South West Africa Peoples Organization, as well as other insurgent groups, to declare statehood and apply for admission. Second, admitting the PLO would exacerbate the trend of politicizing U.N. specialized agen c ies. WHO's credibility depends on its neutrality and professionalism. But, like much of the U.N. System, the WHO has allowed itself to be used as an anti-Israeli forum. Every year since 1976 it has adopted resolutions against Israel's occupation and "ille g al exploitation" of "Arab territories," issues entirely extraneous to WHO's purpose of promoting health care. In 1979 and 1983 attempts were made to expel Israel from WHO. WHO should be trying to disentangle itself from an issue as divisive as the "Questi o n of Palestine." Admitting "Palestine" achieves the opposite effect: it puts WHO in the middle, of the controversy. Tough U.S Congress. The WHO must understand that if the U.S. with ,draws from the agency, as the Bush Administration promises, then WHO wil l lose the $73.8 million American contribution that provides one-quarter of WHO's budget.ne U.S. Congress will surely back the White House on this, as the Congress has on UNESCO, after the'U.S. withdrew in late 1984. In fact, the Congress typically is less patient with and tougher on the U.N. than are the State Department and White House. Already, 38 Senators from both parties, led by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy and Wisconsin Republican Robert Kasten, have sent a letter to Secretary Baker sounding their a larm and threatening "a range of punitive action, including withholding U.S. financial participation" from any U.N. agency that -admits the PLO as a state. And House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations unanimously r eported out California Democrat Tom Lantos's bill prohibiting U.S. contributions to any U.N. organization which grants full membership to any group "that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood." At the World Health Assembly t h is week, the U.S. delegation should make sure that all representatives fully understand that a vote to admit "Palestine" could cost the World Health Organization dearly. Should WHO defy these warnings, the U.S. should carry out its threat to withdraw from the organization. Robert Winters Research Assistant


For further information: Mark A. Franz, "By Providing A Platform for Terrorists, the U.N. Raises the Question: Does It Belong in the U.S.T' Heritage Foundation Eirec7itive Memorandum No. 220, December 1 , 1988. Juliana Geran Pilon, "For the World Health 0rganization, The Moment of Truth," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 507, April 30, 1986.



Edward L.