According to Foreign Policy, the Palestinians intend to try again this fall for membership in the United Nations. Their effort last year was stymied by U.S. opposition. Under U.N. rules, prospective member states must first receive a recommendation from the Security Council. The U.S. has a veto in the Security Council and the Obama Administration appropriately vowed to use that veto on such a recommendation. The White House understood this move to be an attempt to isolate Israel that would deal a major setback to Israeli–Palestinian peace prospects. In the end, the Palestinians failed to get enough support in the Security Council to force a U.S. veto.
U.N. membership will be unattainable for the Palestinians as long as the U.S. is prepared to exercise its veto in the Security Council. However, how firm is the Obama Administration’s vow? Foreign Policy reports, “According to Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, the Obama administration has instructed the Palestinians to sit tight until after the presidential election.”
It is hard to say what this means. Perhaps this is just an attempt to defer the Israel–Palestinian issue until after the election. Or the Palestinians may have interpreted a promise for more active U.S. mediation on the stalled peace talks with Israel to imply a change in U.S. policy on Palestinian statehood. Or perhaps the Administration is implying that, as President Obama told the Russians, it will have more “flexibility” after the election.
Unfortunately, the Administration has not been a model of consistency on this matter. After the failure at the U.N., the Palestinians succeeded in gaining full membership in the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) last year. The U.S. opposed this effort but could not stop it. Under U.S. law, Palestinian membership triggered an immediate suspension of all U.S. funding to UNESCO.
As with U.N. membership, joining UNESCO contributes to the Palestinian effort to isolate Israel and avoid direct peace negotiations. However, the Administration has been trying for months to convince Congress to change the law to allow U.S. funding for UNESCO. Restoring funding to UNESCO would effectively be a green light encouraging the U.N. and its affiliated organizations to grant membership to the Palestinians.
The Palestinians have stated that they intend to pursue U.N. membership. The Administration is sending confusing signals. Congress should remove any ambiguity on its part by making clear to the Administration and the Palestinians that it has no intention of changing the law and will withhold funding to any U.N. organization that grants membership to the Palestinians before a permanent peace agreement, including Palestine’s official recognition of Israel’s right to exist, is negotiated.