UN Risks Losing Crucial American Backing as It Moves To Add Palestine as a Non-Voting Member

America is concerned about ‘any effort to extend certain benefits to entities when there are unresolved questions as to whether the Palestinians currently meet the criteria’ under the UN Charter, a spokesman for the American mission at the UN says.

AP/Bebeto Matthews
The United Nations General Assembly after a vote on a resolution calling on Israel to uphold legal and humanitarian obligations in its war with Hamas, December 12, 2023. AP/Bebeto Matthews

While envoys to the United Nations believe something will be gained after a scheduled Friday vote at the General Assembly, much more could be lost: The UN will likely add a new, non-paying member — a quasi state, Palestine — but lose funding from its largest donor, America. 

Orchestrated by the Palestinian observer at the UN, Riyad Mansour, and introduced by the United Arab Emirates and others, the motion to recognize a new member state by the General Assembly is unprecedented, and likely violates the UN Charter. It also risks creating a major hole in the organization’s budget. 

Following the Friday vote, which is widely expected to back the Palestinian request, Secretary-General Guterres, who just set off on an African trip, will make frantic phone calls to members of Congress and others at Washington, UN sources say. He will likely attempt to minimize the vote’s meaning, a UN official told the Sun, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Yet, while the Assembly resolution might fall just short of granting Palestine full membership, it will confer on it all the rights of a member. “It doesn’t matter, there is legislation in Congress,” the deputy American ambassador at the UN,  Robert Wood, tells the Sun. 

According to Section 414 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which President Bush signed into law in 1991, “No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agencies thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.”

Under another act, known as the Oslo Accords, signed by President Clinton in the heyday of the the Israel-PLO peace process, funding for the UN will be rescinded if it grants “full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.”

As currently drafted, the proposed UN resolution “Determines that the State of Palestine is qualified for membership in the United Nations.” It “recommends” the Security Council follow suit, and meanwhile it lists 11 “modalities” for Palestine’s participation in UN activities.

Short of voting rights, these modalities add up to granting Palestine the “same standing” as a member, which Congress determined would automatically trigger an end to American UN funding.

America is concerned about “any effort to extend certain benefits to entities when there are unresolved questions as to whether the Palestinians currently meet the criteria under the Charter,” a spokesman for the American mission at the UN, Nate Evans, told Reuters.   

Mr. Guterres’s best hope for retaining America’s undying support — more than 22 percent of the UN annual budget, and an even a higher percentage of its peacekeeping budgets — is to convince Washington that the Assembly resolution is a nothingburger.

The secretary-general might argue that the resolution upends established procedures, as delineated in the organization’s founding document. The newest UN members, East Timor and South Sudan, followed those procedures before becoming members, as did all new members before them. 

 “The path to membership is clearly laid out in the UN Charter,” Mr. Guterres’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told the Sun. According to that document’s Chapter II, Article 4, admission to UN membership “will be effected by decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.”

America vetoed a proposed council resolution last month that requested such a recommendation for Palestine’s admission. The proposed Assembly resolution would turn the process on its head by urging the council to “reconsider.” 

Unlike at the 15-member Security Council, General Assembly votes encompass all 193 UN members, and America has no veto right over its resolutions. Given global anti-Israel sentiments, the Friday vote is widely expected to reflect international support for Palestinians.

Israel is appalled. “Since the initiative is against the UN Charter, if it is approved, I expect the United States to completely stop funding the UN and its institutions, according to American law,” the Israeli ambassador at the Turtle Bay, Gilad Erdan, said. 

As often is the case following pro-Palestinian motions, UN ambassadors will applaud themselves Friday after approving the new resolution by what is expected to be a sizable majority. In the executives suites on the 38th floor of the glass building at Turtle Bay, though, the mood is likely to be gloomier. 

Even if Mr. Biden wanted to continue funding the UN, it would become nearly impossible after it conferred all the trappings of membership on a state America is yet to recognize. A bipartisan majority in Congress would call on the White House to obey American law.

Unpaid American dues could eventually result in a suspension of America’s UN membership. If that were to occur some in Congress might applaud themselves on a job well done.

The New York Sun

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