Commentary Magazine


White House to Oppose House Bill to Hold UN Accountable

Today, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen unveiled her United Nations reform bill that will put the world body on notice it will pay a steep price if it continues to thumb its nose at the United States on vital issues. The bill will cut off U.S. funding of any UN agency that treats the Palestinians as an independent state prior to the resolution of the Middle East conflict as well as ending the flow of American largesse to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC).

But while Ros-Lehtinen’s bill is likely to pass the House, it will face a rough time in the Senate due to opposition from the White House.  An administration source told Politico: “This draft legislation is dated, tired, and frankly unresponsive to the positive role being played by the UN.” This raises the question: is President Obama willing to head into a re-election contest flying the flag of the UN?

The White House claims Republican critics of the UN are ignoring the positive role the institution has played in Afghanistan and Libya. It argues that American influence at the world body is maximized when the U.S. is fully engaged and paying the 22 percent of the UN’s budget that flows from Washington. But Obama’s “don’t worry, be happy” approach to the UN has done nothing to convince its members to stop trying to kill the peace process by voting to recognize an independent Palestinian state without first requiring it to make peace with Israel. Nor has the administration used its supposedly weighty influence at Turtle Bay to transform UNRWA or the Human Rights Council, both of which exist primarily in order to perpetuate the Arab war against Israel. Despite progress on some fronts, the UN and its affiliate agencies remain a cesspool of anti-Semitism and bias against Israel as the upcoming Durban III UN conference (which, to its credit, the administration plans to boycott) proves yet again.

As Ros-Lehtinen stated in an op-ed published on Sunday in the Miami Herald, there is a well-established precedent for the practice of withholding America’s UN dues. In 1989, a previous attempt by the Palestinians to gain UN recognition was spiked by a threat from the first Bush administration that such a vote would result in the end of American funding for the world body.

The House effort to mandate reform of the UN on a variety of issues is motivated by a fundamental principle that ought to be a matter of bipartisan consensus: the United States should only fund those institutions and causes that reflect American values and interests.  UNRWA, which has been infiltrated by Hamas and whose purpose is to keep Palestinian refugees in place rather than to resettle them, is a classic example of a UN institution receiving American money that contradicts that principle. The Human Rights Council, which devotes most of its energy to excoriating democratic Israel while ignoring genuine abuses elsewhere, is another.

The Ros-Lehtinen bill is long overdue and deserves the support of pro-Israel Democrats. Just as they did back in May when they demonstrated their opposition to Obama’s attempt to pressure Israel to accept the 1967 lines as the starting point for negotiations, Democrats need to put the White House on notice they have no intention of facing the voters next year as defenders of a corrupt United Nations.