The recent onslaught of violent attacks against Israel reminds us of the growing threats facing the Jewish state. But even as extremists from Gaza fire rockets and mortars at civilians in southern Israel and cause death and destruction, we must not forget about another danger facing Israel: a unilateral campaign by Palestinian leaders to secure recognition from individual foreign governments and from the United Nations for a self-declared Palestinian “state.” This anti-Israel, anti-peace scheme must be stopped.
Abu Mazen’s Palestinian leadership has announced that they will seek recognition from the United Nations in September. They will likely turn first to the U.N. Security Council, where the United States holds a veto and should use it, although the Obama administration has yet to pledge that it will.
The next step would be the General Assembly, which has an automatic anti-Israel, anti-American majority made up largely of member states that are not democratic and other governments that repeatedly vote with rogue regimes and against Israel and the United States. The General Assembly cannot grant membership to a “Palestinian state” without the approval of the Security Council, but the General Assembly can grant the present Palestinian observer the upgraded U.N. status of “non-member state observer,” which is the same status granted to Vatican City. Other U.N. agencies and programs could also grant membership or other upgraded status to Ramallah.
Such U.N. actions would severely undermine opportunities for a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians. They would provide implicit recognition and legitimacy to a self-declared “state” and reward and reinforce the unilateral, rejectionist policies of the Palestinian leadership. Restarting bilateral negotiations would become even more difficult. Ramallah could seize on the U.N.’s actions to escalate its efforts to demonize and isolate Israel internationally, including through seeking an International Criminal Court investigation in order to undermine Israel’s right to defend itself from attacks by violent extremist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah – including the very attacks that have killed several Israelis and wounded many others in recent days.
If the U.N. were to act in support of this unilateral Palestinian scheme, it would deal a blow not only to Israel and to the cause of peace, but to the U.N. itself. The U.N.’s obsession with castigating Israel – from the Human Rights Council and the Goldstone Report and the Durban conferences to the multitude of U.N. bodies created for the sole purpose of condemning Israel – has eliminated the U.N.’s credibility to aid in achieving peace and security in the Middle East. The U.N.’s most infamous anti-Israel act came in 1975, when the General Assembly voted to declare that “Zionism is racism.”
Over 35 years later – and 20 years after the General Assembly repealed that resolution – the U.N. is still rightly discredited by that hateful act. Next month, if the U.N. again sides with Palestinian rejectionism and against Israel and peace, it will be “Zionism is racism” all over again. The U.N., not Israel, will lose whatever remaining legitimacy it holds, and it may never be able to recover.
Fortunately, we are not helpless in the face of this dangerous challenge. There is a historical precedent for how to stop it.
In 1989, Yasser Arafat’s PLO also pushed for membership for a “Palestinian state” in UN entities. The PLO’s strategy looked unstoppable until the George H.W. Bush administration made clear that the U.S. would cut off funding to any UN entity that upgraded the status of the Palestinian observer mission in any way. The UN was forced to choose between isolating Israel and receiving U.S. contributions, and they chose the latter. The PLO’s unilateral campaign was stopped in its tracks.
This example demonstrates a simple but needed lesson: At the UN, money talks, and smart withholding works.
With Arafat’s successors up to the same tricks today, the U.S. response must be as strong. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has consistently refused to use our strongest leverage – our financial contributions – to advance U.S. interests at the UN. If the executive branch will not demonstrate leadership on this issue, Congress must fill the void.
I will soon introduce the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act, which will reflect the executive branch’s previous successful policies by cutting off U.S. contributions to any UN entity that grants membership or any other upgraded status to the Palestinian observer mission. This legislation will also leverage U.S. taxpayer dollars to make sure they do not fund biased or wasteful UN activities, and to achieve other much-needed reforms that will make the UN more transparent, accountable, objective, and effective.
It is time to use all our leverage to stop this unilateral Palestinian scheme – for the sake of our ally Israel and all free democracies, for the sake of peace and security, and for the sake of achieving a UN that upholds its founding principles.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.