President Obama is scheduled to travel to New York this week as part of the opening of another session of the United Nations. Palestinian Authority President Abbas has said he will seek U.N. Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state. That kind of recognition would violate multiple agreements between the Israelis and Palestinians, and it should not be allowed to happen.
In the language of diplomacy, the United Nations currently considers the “Mission of Palestine” to be an “entity” with “observer” status. The Palestinians plan this week is to seek full admission to the United Nations as a Member State which would require Security Council concurrence. Seeking elevation to the position of a “state” with observer status, like the Vatican currently enjoys, has also been mentioned.
An intense diplomatic effort by the Obama administration is reportedly underway to forestall the misguided Palestinian effort.
President Obama should make four things very clear as part of this effort:
1. The United States will veto any effort in the Security Council to grant statehood to the Palestinians and vote against any effort to change their status within the General Assembly.
2. The United States will halt all financial assistance to the Palestinians if they continue with this course of action.
3. The United States will re-evaluate its contributions to any U.N. institution changing the Palestinians’ status.
4. The United States will re-evaluate its foreign aid posture with respect to any state voting in favor of altering the current status of the Palestinians at the United Nations.
In 1993, as part of the Oslo Peace Process, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat wrote to the Prime Minister of Israel to say that “all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.” After that, both sides agreed multiple times that neither party would “change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” prior to the completion of negotiations on “final status” issues.
The recognition of a Palestinian state with defined borders is easily one of the most important of these final status issues to be resolved between Israel and the Palestinians. A unilateral Palestinian declaration of sovereignty, claiming to be a state under international law, and being recognized by the United Nations, would certainly change the status of that territory.
To be sure, many countries around the world already recognize Palestine as an independent state. But U.N. recognition would grant an imprimatur on that status that could be fatal to the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians.
What reason would remain, for example, for Israel to negotiate after the Palestinians just rejected one of the fundamental tenets of the peace process -- that issues will be decided between the parties and not by outside groups?
The United States has provided more than $4 billion in assistance to the Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Additionally, the U.S. is by far the largest single donor to the United Nations, paying 22 percent of the regular U.N. budget and $7.7 billion to the entire U.N. system in 2010. Finally, the United States is the world’s largest distributor of “official development assistance” as defined by the international donor community, providing more than $39 billion in foreign assistance in 2010.
When the House of Representatives proposed to cut foreign assistance funding for next year, Secretary of State Clinton complained this would hinder her efforts “to use foreign assistance strategically.” There would be no more strategic use of foreign assistance than to link the issues of foreign aid distribution and how foreign aid recipients vote at the United Nations on this issue.
The United States has a very important strategic interest in protecting an environment in which the Israelis and Palestinians can resolve all final permanent status issues between themselves. Any Palestinian effort to go outside of that environment will be detrimental to the ultimate goal of a two-state solution reached by the parties.
The Obama administration should make clear that there will be consequences for such an ill-advised effort -- not just for the Palestinians themselves, but also for the United Nations if it chooses to give a voice to such an effort and for any third party country supporting it.
Republican John Thune represents South Dakota in the United States Senate.