The United Nations' funding of a Palestinian Arab propaganda campaign timed to coincide with Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip has increased tensions between the U.N. and American officials.
America's newly installed ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, labeled "inappropriate and unacceptable" the United Nations Development Program financing of materials bearing the slogan "Today Gaza, Tomorrow the West Bank and Jerusalem."
Mr. Bolton said yesterday that the UNDP had failed to explain why it funneled money to the Palestinian Authority to back the production of banners, bumper stickers, mugs, and T-shirts bearing the provocative slogan as well as UNDP logos.
Responding to angry reactions from Jewish and Israeli leaders, UNDP officials yesterday said financial support from the agency was intended to help the Palestinian Authority communicate with Palestinian Arabs during Israel's evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza.
In a letter to the American Jewish Congress, which had decried the funding of the propaganda materials, a UNDP administrator, Kemal Dervis, said it was "not at all acceptable" that the agency's logo was placed on the propaganda.
"We cannot be involved in political messaging," Mr. Dervis wrote. The UNDP manages nearly $4 billion in donor resources annually, operating in 166 countries.
The response from the UNDP was not sufficient, Mr. Bolton said yesterday. "Funding this kind of activity is inappropriate and unacceptable. We plan to raise the issue with UNDP and with others," he said in a statement to The New York Sun. In effect, Mr. Bolton expressed to the UNDP that the most serious problem for his office was not the logo, but the fact that the agency supported that message with its checkbook.
William Orme, a spokesman for the UNDP, told the Sun by telephone yesterday evening, "We've seen Ambassador Bolton's comments, and we are taking this matter seriously."
The slogan, which suggests forthcoming Palestinian Arab triumphs in the disputed territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has become a defining message for the Palestinian Arab government during the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and some areas of the West Bank. The slogan appears to have been adopted not only by senior members of the Palestinian Authority but by Hamas officials as well.
Hamas's top official, Khaled Meshaal, yesterday echoed the theme of the slogan in comments to reporters, Reuters reported. "Gaza is the first liberation, then comes the West Bank, then every inch of Palestinian land," Mr. Meshaal said. "We are at the beginning of the road, and we have not and will not give up our weapons. The battle is not over."
Mr. Meshaal spoke while standing in front of a poster reading "Today Gaza, Tomorrow Jerusalem," Reuters reported.
Hamas's embrace of the slogan reinforced the fear of Jewish and Israeli leaders that the message would undermine peace efforts and provoke more violence.
UNDP officials have argued that it isn't their role to weigh in on the merits of geopolitical claims. Specifically, they have said that the Palestinian Authority had the freedom to develop a campaign without review from the UNDP, which funded the production of the materials through its Program of Assistance to the Palestinian People. The head of the Palestinian program, Timothy Rothermel, was quoted by Fox News as saying that the slogan is "consistent with the relevant U.N. resolutions and Security Council resolutions about the status of Palestine."
Israeli officials, who argue that the West Bank is disputed territory under international law, strongly disagree with Mr. Rothermel's analysis. Juda Engelmayer, director of communications for an umbrella organization representing Jewish groups, the American Jewish Congress, said his group was satisfied by Mr. Dervis's letter. "We believe he is going to be strong and tell them not to use the money for political messages like that," he said.
The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, shared Mr. Bolton's sentiments. In a letter addressed to Mr. Dervis, he wrote, "It is inappropriate for the UNDP, as an impartial global development organization, to fund such a political and provocative message."