More than half of yesterday’s State Department press conference was consumed by questions about the impending Palestinian petition to the UN next week. Spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. envoys, David Hale and Dennis Ross, held meetings yesterday with Israeli President Shimon Peres, E.U. Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, having met the day before with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Hale and Ross are “consulting closely” with other Quartet envoys and will “remain in touch” with them today, Saturday, and again on Sunday in New York. Toner characterized all this as the U.S. being “engaged very intensively on the ground.”
Henry Kissinger shuttled between countries, separated armies, and arrived at armistice agreements with less frenetic effort than the U.S. is devoting to getting the Palestinians to adhere to multiple agreements they already signed – all of which expressly prohibit unilateral moves such as their current one. In Wednesday’s hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation reminded the committee how the first Bush administration handled a similar situation:
In 1988, after the PLO issued its first “declaration of statehood” and sought to gain membership in U.N. organizations, such as the World Health Organization, to bolster their claims of statehood, the first Bush Administration blocked this effort by threatening to withhold U.S. funding for the United Nations. Secretary of State James Baker publicly warned that the U.S. would cut funding to any international organization which made changes in the PLO’s status as an observer organization.
Phillips suggested the current situation should be handled by the U.S. in the same fashion: with a declaration that the U.S. will withhold voluntary or assessed funds to any UN organization that admits Palestine as a state or grants it nonmember state observer status.
The Palestinian gambit deserves such a response because the move is a blatant breach of the Oslo accords, multiple UN resolutions, and the Roadmap, all of which require that final status issues be negotiated between the parties, not determined by the UN. It would violate numerous principles for the UN to be — in Phillips’ words — “co-opted in a politicized effort to delegitimize Israel at the behest of an organization that is partnered with a terrorist group.” It could easily be stopped, as it was once before, if only the Obama administration knew how to use smart power.