UNITED NATIONS - The American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, upped the ante in an escalating confrontation between America and Turtle Bay on the issue of Israel's place at the world body. In a sharply worded letter to Secretary-General Annan, Mr. Bolton threatened to cut funding to the United Nations if it continues to promote anti-Israel events.
Mr. Bolton's January 3 letter, which was seen yesterday by The New York Sun, is a response to a November 29 event celebrating an annual "International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People." At the event, which was attended by Mr. Annan and other top diplomats, a map that "erases the state of Israel," as Mr. Bolton wrote, was displayed.
"Given that we now have a world leader pursuing nuclear weapons who is calling for the state of Israel to be wiped off the map, the issue has even greater salience," Mr. Bolton wrote.
A photo of Mr. Annan standing below the map - several days after President Ahmadinejad of Iran made his statement - was carried last month on the Web site eyeontheun.org, creating a storm of criticism. The site also highlighted the seven-figure budget of U.N. bodies dedicated to promoting what Israel and America consider one-sided, anti-Israel propaganda in the guise of solidarity with Palestinian Arabs.
A U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told the Sun yesterday that Mr. Annan was "grateful" to Mr. Bolton and others who have alerted him to the map, and that he "much hopes" that the U.N. body that organized the annual event will "consider not displaying the map in the future." Mr. Dujarric stopped short of saying that Mr. Annan would cancel his participation in future events that display such maps.
Mr. Dujarric said that Mr. Annan plans to answer Mr. Bolton, but 10 days after sending the letter, which contained very specific questions, Mr. Bolton's spokesman, Richard Grenell, yesterday said, "We have not received an answer as of yet."
"Who is the high-level official within the secretariat who approved use of the map for the event?" Mr. Bolton asked in the letter. "Does the United Nations intend to use the map in future U.N.-sponsored functions and events?"
Most ominously for the United Nations, Mr. Bolton wrote, "In light of prohibition under U.S. law to fund events such as this one, do you consider it appropriate for the United Nations to advertise and promote the event on its general Web site and other venues, which do in fact benefit from U.S. funds?"
Although America opposes funding for several U.N. bodies that one-sidedly promote Palestinian Arab rights, the threat to further cut its support for U.N. general advertising budgets is a matter of serious concern to Mr. Annan's aides, who have been under intense pressure to reform the United Nations in the wake of last year's scandals.
The Palestinian observer at the United Nations, Riad Mansour, defended the use of the map yesterday, telling the Sun that a pre-1948 date is clearly marked on it. "That map has been there for tens of years," he said, adding that in 2004, one of the participants in the event was the American ambassador at the time, John Danforth.
Israel and America might object to funding for the pro-Palestinian Arab bodies, Mr. Mansour said, but the vast majority of member states "think they are useful" and vote annually to continue their activities.
Mr. Dujarric told the Sun that since 1977 the secretariat "has been mandated by the General Assembly" to promote the "Day of Solidarity." He said in 1981, the "committee for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people" decided that the map and the flag of "Palestine as it existed in 1948" should be displayed in the room. Disregarding an official objection by Israel's then ambassador, Yehuda Blum, "the practice has remained unchanged ever since," Mr. Dujarric said.
The fact that the map has been displayed at the United Nations for such a long time and was only noticed this year "only strengthens our position," Israel's deputy ambassador, Daniel Carmon, said. "You can't have a U.N.-sponsored event that displays a map that obliterates a member-state." He added that even if the issue of the map is resolved, the central problem remains: the existence of "automatic" anti-Israel resolutions that provide funds for one-sided bodies at the secretariat.
The organizer of the "solidarity" event is the Division for Palestinian Rights, which in the 2004-2005 U.N. budget received $5,449,600. Other bodies include the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories,($254,500); the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, ($60,800), and the Information Activities on the Question of Palestine ($566,000).
Similar funding has just been approved for the next biannual budget. America "strongly opposes the use of scarce U.N. resources to support the biased and one-sided political activities" of these bodies, America's deputy U.N. ambassador, Anne Patterson, said in October as the General Assembly was discussing the current budget. With the exception of America, Israel, and some small Pacific nations, the General Assembly approved their funding.