Israel's Members of Congress Continue to React to Palestinians' U.N. Bid

By McArthur, Shirl | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2012 | Go to article overview

Israel's Members of Congress Continue to React to Palestinians' U.N. Bid


McArthur, Shirl, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Although none of the previously described, ill-considered congressional measures responding to the Palestinians' bid to gain expanded U.N. recognition have made any further progress, one new bill, S. 1860, was introduced on Nov. 14 by Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN). It would "clarify prohibitions for any U.N. entity that admits Palestine as a member state." In addition, following the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) Oct. 31 vote to admit the PLO as a full member, Israel's members of Congress continued to seek to punish the Palestinians for their efforts by, especially, threatening to cut off all aid to the Palestinians. (Note that UNESCO granted the PLO, not the Palestinian Authority, full membership status. Similarly, it is the PLO that has observer status in the U.N. General Assembly.)

Prior to UNESCO's vote, several congressional letters were sent opposing the action. On Oct. 5 Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) wrote to UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova urging that she cancel the vote. Similarly, Rep. Steven Rothman (D-NJ), joined by all the members of the House foreign aid appropriations subcommittee except Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), wrote to Bokova saying that "any recognition of Palestine as a Member State would...endanger future financial contributions to UNESCO by the U.S." And on Oct. 28 Reps. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Tom Cole (R-OK), joined by four others, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauding "the administration's efforts to block full membership of the PA in UNESCO." Interestingly, the letter makes the case againstwithholding U.S. funds to UNESCO by citing UNESCO's "many projects that the U.S. believes strongly in," but ends by urging Clinton to "hold firm against" the Palestinians' request.

Indeed, UNESCO's vote triggered provisions in laws passed in 1990 and 1994 prohibiting U.S. contributions to it. According to the 1990 law, PL 101-246, no funds "shall be available for the U.N. or any specialized agency thereof which accords the PLO the same standing as member states." The 1994 law, PL 103-236, bars U.S. contributions "to any affiliated organization of the U.N. which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood." Neither provision includes presidential waiver authority. Having no choice, Clinton announced that the U.S. was withholding the $60 million payment to UNESCO scheduled for this fall.

There is nothing to stop Congress from amending the earlier laws prohibiting payments to the U.N., however, and on Nov. 14 the State Department sent a long memo to key members of Congress urging that this be done. But that won't happen, given the approaching election year and many members' reliance on donations from pro-Israel PACs and individuals.

Resistance to Cutting Aid to the Palestinians-Including From Israel?

Momentum is building in Congress to cut off all aid to the Palestinians. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that Congress is poised to cut aid to the PA, although "I don't think that's in our near-term or long-term interest, but that's what's going to happen." Previously, Congress's most reliable Israel-firster, House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), was blocking about $200 million of the $400 million allocated in the FY '11 continuing appropriations bill. But after receiving extensive documentation from the State Department, Ros-Lehtinen on Sept. 2 released $50 million for the Palestinian Security Forces, and in late October released the $148 million for law enforcement assistance. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) said that he and others were planning to add Palestine-related amendments to the foreign aid portion of the "minibus" (consolidating FY '12 appropriations for agriculture and water, foreign affairs and financial services) when it comes to the Senate floor.

However, some resistance is building against cutting PA aid. The State Department is arguing strongly against cutting the aid. …

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