Commentary Magazine


Topic: UN

House Members Circulate Letter to Close PLO Office

It looks like the congressional debate over whether to close the PLO office in Washington is far from over. Arutz Sheva reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers began circulating a letter calling for a strong response to the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid, including the closure of the PLO office: 

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) are circulating a letter in response to the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid at the United Nation (sic), urging that the U.S. to utilize “every means at our disposal to ensure that this General Assembly vote does not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other UN bodies or international forums.”

“We are deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress and insisted on pursuing this distinctly unhelpful initiative,” the letter states.

Echoing the apprehension of the mainstream Jewish community, the lawmakers assert that, “This Palestinian action violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums- a threat which, even if unrealized, would hang over Israel’s head during any future negotiations or any effort by the Israeli government to defend its citizens from terrorism.” … 

“We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps,” the letter adds.

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It looks like the congressional debate over whether to close the PLO office in Washington is far from over. Arutz Sheva reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers began circulating a letter calling for a strong response to the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid, including the closure of the PLO office: 

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) are circulating a letter in response to the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid at the United Nation (sic), urging that the U.S. to utilize “every means at our disposal to ensure that this General Assembly vote does not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other UN bodies or international forums.”

“We are deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress and insisted on pursuing this distinctly unhelpful initiative,” the letter states.

Echoing the apprehension of the mainstream Jewish community, the lawmakers assert that, “This Palestinian action violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums- a threat which, even if unrealized, would hang over Israel’s head during any future negotiations or any effort by the Israeli government to defend its citizens from terrorism.” … 

“We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps,” the letter adds.

Ros-Lehtinen is the outgoing chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Royce is the incoming chair, indicating that this is likely to be taken up by the committee next year. Whether it would be considered as a standalone bill or an amendment is unclear at this point, and we probably won’t know more details until the beginning of the next session. But it’s a debate worth watching closely, in no small part because it pits left-wing lobby J Street (which opposes the initiative) against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (which has supported it):

The initiative is backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and opposed by the extreme left leaning groups of J Street and Peace Now.

Voicing its opposition, J Street, which has long been accused of espousing anti-Israel beliefs, launched an effort Monday to discourage House of Representatives members from signing the letter.

“At a time when the United States should be looking for ways to encourage and deepen diplomacy, talk of ejecting one of the parties from the country defies logic,” J Street said in its action alert.

J Street already claimed victory when a proposed amendment to close the PLO office wasn’t included in the defense authorization bill recently approved by the Senate. As I reported last week, there is no sign this had anything do with J Street’s supposed lobbying prowess. According to the office of Lindsey Graham, one of the sponsors of the amendment, it wasn’t included because it wasn’t technically considered germane. Jewish community sources familiar with the issue also tell me that the Obama administration objected to the amendment, making it unlikely to pass through the unanimous consent process.

In total, around 400 amendments were reportedly proposed for the defense bill, and the majority weren’t included in the final legislation. But that still didn’t stop J Street from sending out this triumphant email headlined “Victory”:

Earlier this week, we asked you to help us stop the Senate from kicking the Palestinian Diplomatic Mission out of Washington, DC in retaliation for last week’s United Nations vote.

You responded, sending 14,500 emails and making almost 1,000 calls telling Senators the US should not take such a counterproductive step.

And, as ThinkProgress,1 JTA2 and The Forward3 have all made crystal clear: YOU DID IT. The Senate held back, and the amendment to expel the Palestinian Mission was dropped. 

Clearly J Street’s celebration was a little premature.

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Israel’s Counterterror Summit Attendance Shouldn’t Be Enough

Yesterday, Rick Richman doubled down on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s continued acquiescence to Israel’s exclusion from the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the Obama administration’s marquee counterterrorism diplomatic program. Rick is right that the State Department is embarrassing itself, and rendering meaningless any outcome to the forum. But the willingness to exclude Israel for the mirage of success is not the exception, but rather the norm.

Consider the United Nations’s regional groupings. Logically, Israel should be part of the United Nations’s Asian Group, simply on the basis of geography. But Arab states block Israel’s membership—because, it seems, in the Middle East hatred trumps logic. That other United Nations members allow this nonsense demeans the entire body. After all, North Korea doesn’t block South Korea or vice versa, nor does India block Pakistan. While not a regional issue, the United States holds its nose and allows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit New York on UN business. Israel’s exclusion from the Asian Group has encouraged the worst excesses: Prior to Mary Robinson’s anti-Semitic Durban “anti-racism” Conference, the worst excesses came out of the Asian Group’s preparatory meeting in Tehran.

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Yesterday, Rick Richman doubled down on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s continued acquiescence to Israel’s exclusion from the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the Obama administration’s marquee counterterrorism diplomatic program. Rick is right that the State Department is embarrassing itself, and rendering meaningless any outcome to the forum. But the willingness to exclude Israel for the mirage of success is not the exception, but rather the norm.

Consider the United Nations’s regional groupings. Logically, Israel should be part of the United Nations’s Asian Group, simply on the basis of geography. But Arab states block Israel’s membership—because, it seems, in the Middle East hatred trumps logic. That other United Nations members allow this nonsense demeans the entire body. After all, North Korea doesn’t block South Korea or vice versa, nor does India block Pakistan. While not a regional issue, the United States holds its nose and allows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit New York on UN business. Israel’s exclusion from the Asian Group has encouraged the worst excesses: Prior to Mary Robinson’s anti-Semitic Durban “anti-racism” Conference, the worst excesses came out of the Asian Group’s preparatory meeting in Tehran.

True, after several years, the Western European and Others Group allowed temporary membership for Israel, but with Turkey in the same group for voting purposes, expect the fiercely anti-Israel Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to raise complaints. He realizes that when he makes enough noise, the West caves.

That the United Nations demeans itself when it plays these games with Israel is well-known. That Clinton believes she should follow its example shows her true self and sets a very dangerous precedent.

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The Case of the Disappearing PLO Mission Amendment

Earlier this week, I wrote a post wondering whether J Street has increased its influence on the Hill after the November election. A good test, I said, was whether J Street was able to rally enough objections to legislation responding to the UN vote. 

One of these amendments — which would have shuttered the PLO mission in D.C. — was dropped from the defense authorization bill that passed the Senate earlier this week. According to Open Zion’s Ali Gharib, this proves that J Street has gained clout in Washington:

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Earlier this week, I wrote a post wondering whether J Street has increased its influence on the Hill after the November election. A good test, I said, was whether J Street was able to rally enough objections to legislation responding to the UN vote. 

One of these amendments — which would have shuttered the PLO mission in D.C. — was dropped from the defense authorization bill that passed the Senate earlier this week. According to Open Zion’s Ali Gharib, this proves that J Street has gained clout in Washington:

It’s indeed a juicy indicator: immediately after the recent U.N. vote on upgrading Palestine’s status, AIPAC called for a “full review” of U.S. relations with the Palestinians, including closing the PLO’s office, and backed a measure that would do just that. A J Street campaign, on the other hand, marshaled 15,000 e-mails and phone calls to Congress opposing the amendment booting the PLO from D.C.

So, who won? J Street: the amendment, somewhat mysteriously, disappeared from the bill it was attached to. JTA‘s Ron Kampeas called it “a rare fail of the pro-Israel mainstream”—but that AIPAC no longer has the monopoly on the “pro-Israel mainstream” is precisely the lesson, by the lights of Alana Goodman, that we should take from this episode. The liberal group is gaining some real clout in Washington, and Goodman, having posited that the bill to punish Palestinians was a test, should pony up and acknowledge that, by even the metric she chose to introduce, J Street indeed can claim credit for some D.C. victories. Over to you, Alana.

Did the amendment “mysteriously” disappear, as Ali writes? No — well, at least not to anybody who bothered to pick up a phone and ask. The amendment was dropped from the bill because of a technicality in Senate procedure, according to Senator Lindsey Graham’s office, which sponsored it.

“Once cloture was invoked, the amendment was not eligible for a vote because it was not technically germane to the legislation,” said Graham spokesperson Kevin Bishop.

Bishop added that Graham “will continue to explore opportunities for passing the legislation.”

More than 400 amendments were filed on the defense authorization bill and debated for days. More than half of them were dropped, either because they were considered technically non-germane (like the amendment to close the PLO mission) or overly contentious (the Obama administration threatened to veto the bill if certain provisions were included). Typically, there is a lot of conflict over the defense authorization bill, but this year it passed easily through unanimous consent, largely because amendments that may have raised objections were taken out. Senators were eager to rush this thing out the door and focus on the fiscal cliff debate.

Was this because of J Street? I’m sure that’s what J Street would like people to believe. In fact, the amendment was one of hundreds that disappeared because of a procedural technicality or administration objection. “Mystery” solved.

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Missing John Howard

The United Nations General Assembly vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state was a defeat for Obama administration diplomacy. The problem for Obama and Secretary of State Clinton was not their opposition to Palestinian statehood: Obama is certainly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, as are most within the State Department. In this, as the press often forgets, they also join most Israelis who desire a two-state solution, albeit it one that will guarantee peace and security. The problem with the UN vote—and the reason for the U.S. vote against—was its unilateralism: The Palestinians had committed at Oslo to negotiate with Israel as a condition of the Palestinian Authority’s existence, and for the last four years, this they have refused to do, choosing instead to cast aside their earlier commitments just the same as Hamas has refused to abide by commitments made by their predecessors in the Palestinian parliament.

Regardless, why did so many countries break from precedent and their promises and vote against the U.S. position? Seth Mandel tackled this last week. From Melbourne, Australia, however, AIJAC director Colin Rubenstein flags a speech by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who stepped down five years ago yesterday, in which he addressed the UN vote:

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The United Nations General Assembly vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state was a defeat for Obama administration diplomacy. The problem for Obama and Secretary of State Clinton was not their opposition to Palestinian statehood: Obama is certainly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, as are most within the State Department. In this, as the press often forgets, they also join most Israelis who desire a two-state solution, albeit it one that will guarantee peace and security. The problem with the UN vote—and the reason for the U.S. vote against—was its unilateralism: The Palestinians had committed at Oslo to negotiate with Israel as a condition of the Palestinian Authority’s existence, and for the last four years, this they have refused to do, choosing instead to cast aside their earlier commitments just the same as Hamas has refused to abide by commitments made by their predecessors in the Palestinian parliament.

Regardless, why did so many countries break from precedent and their promises and vote against the U.S. position? Seth Mandel tackled this last week. From Melbourne, Australia, however, AIJAC director Colin Rubenstein flags a speech by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who stepped down five years ago yesterday, in which he addressed the UN vote:

If we are to achieve what we all want – peace based upon a two-State solution… If we are to achieve that, we will not achieve it by constantly providing incentives to the Palestinians to walk away from the negotiating table and that is basically what is involved in this current proposition before the General Assembly of the United Nations. The only way in which lasting peace can be achieved and I know it is the heartfelt of the people of Israel and the heartfelt desire of the Jewish community in Australia and I am sure it is the heartfelt desire of millions of Palestinians as well, is by total acceptance on both sides of the right of others to exist to secure and internationally respected boundaries and until those on the Palestinian side fully accept and understand that peace cannot be achieved unless they unconditionally accept Israel’s right to exist, we are not really going to have any hope of achieving that peace.

In my opinion this resolution before the General Assembly of United Nations will make it less likely that that acceptance from groups such as Hamas and others will come rather than walk away and I fail to understand the logic of the arguments that have been advanced by some who claim that this will make peace more likely and make it more likely that meaningful negotiations can be begin in the interim…

He continued to recount his experience into the negotiations which occurred during his terms as prime minister:

The offer that was made by Barak approximated to well over 90% of what the Palestinians had been arguing that they wanted but that did not come about because in the end Arafat was unwilling, unable or whatever combination of the two to finally agree with President Clinton at Camp David in the dying days of President Clinton’s presidency… With that experience vividly in my mind I have always greeted with extraordinary skepticism the criticisms that have been made of the alleged intransigence of the people of Israel and the governments of Israel on this issue. I know this is a difficult issue and I guess everybody, no matter what opinion you take, despairs of this ever achieving an outcome but it will eventually if people of goodwill continue to pursue it but if they pursue it from a position of strength and in the case of Israel that of course includes her continuing right to effectively respond in a retaliatory fashion against rocket attacks and incursions on her sovereignty and threats to the life and safety and liberty of her people.

Australia lost a great deal of its prestige and diplomatic muscle when John Howard stepped down, and most Australians—even those who were Howard’s detractors at the time—recognize it. America is fortunate that we still do have clear-sighted allies in Canadian Premier Stephen Harper and Czech President Václav Klaus. A sound strategy would reward such leaders, rather than take them for granted.

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Europe Once Again Shows that Palestinian Violence Pays

Just in case there were any doubts, last week provided conclusive proof: Yes, Palestinian violence pays. And the so-called “enlightened” countries–those Western states who claim to deplore violence and favor the peaceful resolution of conflicts–are the very ones who will reward violence the most. That’s precisely what happened with the Palestinians’ successful bid for UN recognition as a nonmember observer state.

Most European countries understood that this move would at best not advance the peace process, and at worst hinder it. So some had planned to vote no, while others planned to abstain. But then Hamas dramatically escalated its rocket fire on Israel, forcing Israel to respond; Hamas thus became the center of world attention while the Palestinian Authority was sidelined. So in an effort to give the PA a boost, European governments switched their votes at the last minute: Those who had planned to vote no abstained, and those who had planned to abstain voted yes. In other words, they agreed to support something they had previously considered “unhelpful” just because Hamas fired lots of rockets at Israel.

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Just in case there were any doubts, last week provided conclusive proof: Yes, Palestinian violence pays. And the so-called “enlightened” countries–those Western states who claim to deplore violence and favor the peaceful resolution of conflicts–are the very ones who will reward violence the most. That’s precisely what happened with the Palestinians’ successful bid for UN recognition as a nonmember observer state.

Most European countries understood that this move would at best not advance the peace process, and at worst hinder it. So some had planned to vote no, while others planned to abstain. But then Hamas dramatically escalated its rocket fire on Israel, forcing Israel to respond; Hamas thus became the center of world attention while the Palestinian Authority was sidelined. So in an effort to give the PA a boost, European governments switched their votes at the last minute: Those who had planned to vote no abstained, and those who had planned to abstain voted yes. In other words, they agreed to support something they had previously considered “unhelpful” just because Hamas fired lots of rockets at Israel.

But the hypocrisy doesn’t end there. These same European countries are now furious at Israel’s response: They thought they had an understanding with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel would let the UN vote pass quietly. And in fact, they did. The only minor detail they’re overlooking is that Netanyahu agreed not to retaliate for the UN vote in exchange for what he thought was a European commitment to either vote against or abstain. In short, the Europeans reneged on their side of the unwritten deal, but are furious that Israel isn’t upholding its side anyway.

That is a microcosm of what’s wrong with the peace process as a whole: As far as most of the world is concerned, bilateral Israeli agreements are binding on one side only: Israel. Thus it’s perfectly fine with the Europeans for the PA to violate one of its cardinal commitments under the peace process: that all disputes will be resolved through negotiations rather than unilaterally–or as the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement put it, “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” But it’s an outrage, completely beyond the pale, for Israel to respond by doing something that no signed agreement actually bars it from doing: In no agreement did Israel ever promise to halt construction in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

So here’s what we’ve learned from the past week’s events: Palestinians should keep shooting rockets at Israel, because Europe will reward them for it by punishing Israel. And Israel should never again make any agreement with the Palestinians, because the Palestinians won’t be bound by it at all, whereas Israel will be bound not only by what the deal actually says, but by what the Palestinians and their Europeans allies think it should have said.

You’d think countries that claim to abhor violence and favor diplomacy could find better lessons to be teaching, wouldn’t you?

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Susan Rice at UN: Resolution Can’t Create State Where None Exists

The UN resolution giving Palestinians nonmember state status passed easily 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions*, a reminder of what a sad joke the United Nations General Assembly is. During the floor speeches, both Canada and the U.S. came to Israel’s defense, with Ambassador Susan Rice vigorously objecting to the resolution.

“Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button in this hall,” said Rice. “Nor does passing a resolution create a state where none exists, or change the reality on the ground. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.”

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The UN resolution giving Palestinians nonmember state status passed easily 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions*, a reminder of what a sad joke the United Nations General Assembly is. During the floor speeches, both Canada and the U.S. came to Israel’s defense, with Ambassador Susan Rice vigorously objecting to the resolution.

“Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button in this hall,” said Rice. “Nor does passing a resolution create a state where none exists, or change the reality on the ground. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.”

Rice emphasized that the resolution would only set back the chances of reaching a two-state solution. “Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives have changed,” she said.

The ambassador added that the only way forward was through direct negotiation between both parties.

“There simply are no short cuts,” said Rice. “Long after the votes are cast, long after the speeches have been forgotten, it is the Palestinians and Israelis that still must talk to each other and listen to each other and find a way to live together side by side in the land they share.”

Rice’s remarks were notably strong, and could help her win points with Republicans and conservative pro-Israel groups ahead of her potential nomination for secretary of state.

*Fixed from earlier when I wrote it passed 138 to 41. Final tally was 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions.

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The UN’s Freudian Tweet

Today the official account for the United Nations made a hilarious and telling error in advance of the UN General Assembly vote on granting Palestinians non-member state observer status. The account, which has over a million followers, tweeted at 11 a.m.:

UN Tweet

The tweet stayed online for more than 30 minutes, followed by a correction stressing a two-state solution. The social media manager for the UN, Nancy Groves, explained to Twitter users, “Sorry all — terrible typo on my part and then went into a telephone conference call before catching it.” And: “Wish I had caught it sooner.” 

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Today the official account for the United Nations made a hilarious and telling error in advance of the UN General Assembly vote on granting Palestinians non-member state observer status. The account, which has over a million followers, tweeted at 11 a.m.:

UN Tweet

The tweet stayed online for more than 30 minutes, followed by a correction stressing a two-state solution. The social media manager for the UN, Nancy Groves, explained to Twitter users, “Sorry all — terrible typo on my part and then went into a telephone conference call before catching it.” And: “Wish I had caught it sooner.” 

The Blaze called it the typo that has the “Palestinians furious.” Given the overwhelming vote in the UNGA today for Palestinian statehood (138 for, 9 against and 41 abstentions), if any group should be certain about being the one state left standing, it’s the Palestinians, not the Israelis.

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A Fine Mess at Foggy Bottom

Lost in all the speculation about the next secretary of state is the degree to which Foggy Bottom will need someone who can put the pieces back together. While Hillary Clinton coasted for much of her term on the good press that comes with being a Clinton, until the last couple of months she was having a decidedly average run as secretary of state. But the Benghazi debacle–which was in large part the result of Clinton’s incompetence and lack of attention–followed by the expected defection of most of our European allies at the UN vote on the Palestinians today, reveals a State Department marked by ineptitude and surprising irrelevance.

To be sure, as the New York Times has thoroughly documented, diplomacy has always been one of President Obama’s more glaring weaknesses. But the well funded, high-profile State Department’s mission is to be the public face of American diplomacy, and should at least be able to keep the support of our allies. But the reported decision by Germany, France, Italy, and Britain to abandon the U.S., Canada, and Israel at the UN today left Israeli diplomats proclaiming: “We lost Europe”–to say nothing of Washington’s inability to prevent Mahmoud Abbas from going forward with this stunt in the first place:

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Lost in all the speculation about the next secretary of state is the degree to which Foggy Bottom will need someone who can put the pieces back together. While Hillary Clinton coasted for much of her term on the good press that comes with being a Clinton, until the last couple of months she was having a decidedly average run as secretary of state. But the Benghazi debacle–which was in large part the result of Clinton’s incompetence and lack of attention–followed by the expected defection of most of our European allies at the UN vote on the Palestinians today, reveals a State Department marked by ineptitude and surprising irrelevance.

To be sure, as the New York Times has thoroughly documented, diplomacy has always been one of President Obama’s more glaring weaknesses. But the well funded, high-profile State Department’s mission is to be the public face of American diplomacy, and should at least be able to keep the support of our allies. But the reported decision by Germany, France, Italy, and Britain to abandon the U.S., Canada, and Israel at the UN today left Israeli diplomats proclaiming: “We lost Europe”–to say nothing of Washington’s inability to prevent Mahmoud Abbas from going forward with this stunt in the first place:

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, mounted an aggressive campaign to head off the General Assembly vote.

In a last-ditch move Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns made a personal appeal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013 if Abbas abandoned the effort to seek statehood. The Palestinian leader refused, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat….

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Wednesday that the U.N. vote will not fulfill the goal of independent Palestinian and Israeli states living side by side in peace, which the U.S. strongly supports because that requires direct negotiations.

“We need an environment conducive to that,” she told reporters in Washington. “And we’ve urged both parties to refrain from actions that might in any way make a return to meaningful negotiations that focus on getting to a resolution more difficult.”

I’m not sure who the fact that Clinton’s State Department is falling to pieces benefits, Susan Rice or John Kerry. On the one hand, Rice’s inexperience and tendency to clash with those around her would seem to argue against her being the best choice to fix things at Foggy Bottom. On the other hand, inflicting John Kerry upon the world doesn’t seem likely to win us back any of the goodwill we’re looking for.

Additionally, either one would have the challenge of serving under Obama; it’s notable that when Burns begged Abbas not to do this, and offered a re-engaged Obama in return, Abbas found nothing remotely enticing about the offer.

One more bit of irony about all this: the one political figure in this episode who followed Obama’s recommendations was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu agreed–wisely–not to punish the Palestinian Authority for its UN gambit. And Netanyahu has been offering to negotiate with the Palestinians face to face with no preconditions for some time now, so if and when the rest of the world decides to work with Obama again, Netanyahu will be ready and waiting.

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Lawmakers Call for Cuts to UN, PA

The UN General Assembly meets for the vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at 3 p.m. today, which will almost certainly pass. But both the UN and the Palestinians have little to gain from a successful vote, and a lot to lose. Senator Orrin Hatch has already filed an amendment to the upcoming defense bill that would abolish UN funding if the status change is approved: 

Ahead of the vote, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch filed an amendment to a defense bill that would eliminate funding for the United Nations if the General Assembly changes Palestine’s status.

“Increasing the Palestinians’ role in the United Nations is absolutely the wrong approach, especially in light of recent military developments in the Middle East,” he said in a statement. “Israel is one of America’s closest allies, and any movement to strengthen one of its fiercest enemies must not be tolerated.”

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The UN General Assembly meets for the vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at 3 p.m. today, which will almost certainly pass. But both the UN and the Palestinians have little to gain from a successful vote, and a lot to lose. Senator Orrin Hatch has already filed an amendment to the upcoming defense bill that would abolish UN funding if the status change is approved: 

Ahead of the vote, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch filed an amendment to a defense bill that would eliminate funding for the United Nations if the General Assembly changes Palestine’s status.

“Increasing the Palestinians’ role in the United Nations is absolutely the wrong approach, especially in light of recent military developments in the Middle East,” he said in a statement. “Israel is one of America’s closest allies, and any movement to strengthen one of its fiercest enemies must not be tolerated.”

Senator John Barrasso has submitted a different amendment to the defense bill, which would slash U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority by 50 percent, and U.S. aid to any UN member country that votes for the status change by 20 percent. Barrasso writes at NRO:

Yesterday, I introduced an amendment to the Senate defense bill that makes it clear that undermining the peace process comes at a cost. My amendment will specifically cut 50 percent of the total U.S. funds to the Palestinian Authority and also to any U.N. entity that grants the Palestinians a status change. It also reduces by 20 percent all U.S. foreign assistance to any country voting for the status change.

The Palestinians have a history of trying to use outside groups like the U.N. to skirt the peace process. In 2011, the Palestinians sought membership in UNESCO, and got it. This automatically triggered legal restrictions on U.S. financial support, and the Obama administration was forced to cut aid to UNESCO.

At the beginning of this year, the Obama administration irresponsibly changed course and said that it would try to waive these restrictions. It signaled that the United Nations can continue to undermine that peace process with impunity and raised questions about President Obama’s support for Israel. Today’s U.N. vote is a direct consequence of the administration’s record of mixed signals about the peace process.

And that’s just from the Senate. If the vote goes through, we’ll likely see similar proposals from House Republicans, who hardly need another reason to object to UN funding or foreign aid to the PA.

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Brahimi Pick Shows UN Disdain for Syrians

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appears ready to appoint former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi to replace Kofi Annan as head of the joint U.N.-Arab League mission to Syria. Other than Kofi Annan, who failed to protect the vulnerable in both Rwanda and at Srebrenica, it would be hard to find a more insipid choice than Brahimi.

As Foreign Minister of Algeria, Brahimi distinguished himself as a fierce Nasserist, not as a man of peace. As undersecretary of the Arab League between 1984 and 1991, Brahimi sat silent as Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds and, in the wake of the failed uprising, killed as many if not more Iraqi Shi’ites. Visiting Baghdad in 1997, Brahimi added insult to injury, as Iraqi television showed him embracing Saddam’s Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, a man now facing a death sentence for crimes against humanity. The love may have been genuine: As a special UN representative for Iraq in the wake of Saddam’s fall, Brahimi made rehabilitation of Baathist war criminals a central pillar of his mission.

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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appears ready to appoint former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi to replace Kofi Annan as head of the joint U.N.-Arab League mission to Syria. Other than Kofi Annan, who failed to protect the vulnerable in both Rwanda and at Srebrenica, it would be hard to find a more insipid choice than Brahimi.

As Foreign Minister of Algeria, Brahimi distinguished himself as a fierce Nasserist, not as a man of peace. As undersecretary of the Arab League between 1984 and 1991, Brahimi sat silent as Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds and, in the wake of the failed uprising, killed as many if not more Iraqi Shi’ites. Visiting Baghdad in 1997, Brahimi added insult to injury, as Iraqi television showed him embracing Saddam’s Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, a man now facing a death sentence for crimes against humanity. The love may have been genuine: As a special UN representative for Iraq in the wake of Saddam’s fall, Brahimi made rehabilitation of Baathist war criminals a central pillar of his mission.

Western diplomats may celebrate Brahimi for his assistance patching together an Afghan government after the Taliban’s fall. Whatever success he can claim there, however, came because Afghanistan was distant enough from the failed ideologies of the Arab Middle East. Not so in Syria. Appointing Brahimi as mediator is akin to putting a fox in charge of the hen house. He promises not to bring peace, but to serve the whims of a dictator bent on repressing those seeking to unseat him.

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What is the UN Secretary-General’s Job?

Several years ago, I took the opportunity to hear UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speak at a Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies graduation. The Secretary-General is not the most dynamic speaker and, if memory serves, his speech was basically pabulum, talking a great deal about meetings he had had; if there was a focus, it was probably on global warming. To be fair, while his predecessor Kofi Annan is a better public speaker, there is little substance to Annan’s speeches as well.

The problem with many of the UN Secretaries-General is that they have redefined their position to be that of the world’s diplomat, and have assumed a bully pulpit for which they have no right. When the UN was created, the purpose of the secretary-general, first and foremost, was to be the UN’s administrator. He was meant to make the organization’s bureaucracy function in a clear and efficient way.

By this standard, both Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan have been abject failures. Take the most recent scandal at the United Nations: The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shipped hi-tech computers to Iran and North Korea in contravention of UN sanctions. That is a failure of administration at the highest level. In any normal organization, it would lead to the resignation not only of WIPO’s director, but also that of the UN administration, because it was the failure of the secretary-general’s oversight that allowed this transaction to occur.

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Several years ago, I took the opportunity to hear UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speak at a Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies graduation. The Secretary-General is not the most dynamic speaker and, if memory serves, his speech was basically pabulum, talking a great deal about meetings he had had; if there was a focus, it was probably on global warming. To be fair, while his predecessor Kofi Annan is a better public speaker, there is little substance to Annan’s speeches as well.

The problem with many of the UN Secretaries-General is that they have redefined their position to be that of the world’s diplomat, and have assumed a bully pulpit for which they have no right. When the UN was created, the purpose of the secretary-general, first and foremost, was to be the UN’s administrator. He was meant to make the organization’s bureaucracy function in a clear and efficient way.

By this standard, both Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan have been abject failures. Take the most recent scandal at the United Nations: The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shipped hi-tech computers to Iran and North Korea in contravention of UN sanctions. That is a failure of administration at the highest level. In any normal organization, it would lead to the resignation not only of WIPO’s director, but also that of the UN administration, because it was the failure of the secretary-general’s oversight that allowed this transaction to occur.

The same is true with Kofi Annan. There has seldom been a statesman who enjoys such a reputation as an elder statesman but whose record rests on failure. As director of the UN’s peacekeeping operation, Annan’s indecisiveness enabled the Rwanda genocide to develop and cost the lives of hundreds of thousands, a casualty count for which Annan has apologized. As director of peacekeeping operations, Annan also presided over the failure to protect the safe haven in Srebrenica in 1995, in which 7,000 men and boys were slaughtered by Serbian fighters. It was as secretary-general, however, where Annan truly failed. He ignored his primary responsibility as administrator-in-chief in order to traipse around the globe at donor expense, giving speeches and collecting laurels. By doing so, he presided over the worst corruption scandal to hit the United Nations, one for which he has never truly paid the price.

The United Nations has an important role. Having a place to convene enemies and combatants is a valuable enabler of diplomacy. If the UN secretary-general is unable or incapable of managing UN affairs, however, then either it is time for the UN secretary-general to resign or it is time to shrink the UN and its myriad agencies back to a manageable size. Rather than sweep the WIPO scandal under the rug, perhaps it’s time to erase this notion of a world diplomat and instead return the secretary-general to his original purpose as an administrator and facilitator.

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Betrayal of Dissidents at Core of Realism

Alana Goodman is absolutely correct that the Obama administration’s treatment of Chen Guangcheng is abominable. But the betrayal of dissidents is simply the bread-and-butter both of realists and the UN’s breed of internationalists, both philosophies to which Obama aspires.

In the 1970s, realists sought to kill the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which tied relations with the Soviet Union to freedom of emigration. Realists claimed that emigration—predominantly by Soviet Jewry—was not a core U.S. interest and that congressional meddling risked rapprochement with the Soviet Union. It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that dissidents and ex-communist officials both testified as to how Jackson-Vanik de-legitimized the Soviet Union and shook it to its core. Alas, few realists are students of history. As Sen. John Kerry auditions for a second-term Obama administration secretary of state appointment, he burnishes his credentials by undercutting any attempt to tie U.S. relations with Russia to human rights. Indeed, when it comes to the Magnitsky bill, it is clear he was for it before he was against it.

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Alana Goodman is absolutely correct that the Obama administration’s treatment of Chen Guangcheng is abominable. But the betrayal of dissidents is simply the bread-and-butter both of realists and the UN’s breed of internationalists, both philosophies to which Obama aspires.

In the 1970s, realists sought to kill the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which tied relations with the Soviet Union to freedom of emigration. Realists claimed that emigration—predominantly by Soviet Jewry—was not a core U.S. interest and that congressional meddling risked rapprochement with the Soviet Union. It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that dissidents and ex-communist officials both testified as to how Jackson-Vanik de-legitimized the Soviet Union and shook it to its core. Alas, few realists are students of history. As Sen. John Kerry auditions for a second-term Obama administration secretary of state appointment, he burnishes his credentials by undercutting any attempt to tie U.S. relations with Russia to human rights. Indeed, when it comes to the Magnitsky bill, it is clear he was for it before he was against it.

The UN is little better. It is tragic that this incident from nearly a decade ago has long since disappeared from public consciousness:

“On January 25, 2003, an Iraqi man stopped a UN-marked Land Cruiser right outside the UN compound in Baghdad, pleading, ‘Save me! Save me!’ According to a CNN report of the incident, the unarmed man then boarded the UN car and refused to get out. Appearing agitated and frightened, the young man, with a closely trimmed beard and a mustache, sat inside the white UN-marked SUB for 10 minutes, the Associated Press reported. Then, according to CNN, an Iraqi guard struggled to pull him out, while an unfazed UN inspector watched from the passenger seat.”

The UN handed the man over to Saddam Hussein’s security forces; he has never been seen again. Kofi Annan did not care. For Kofi, Saddam was a man he could do business with (literally), and he wanted nothing to get in the way.

Realists will always find an excuse to ignore dissidents and dismiss their fight for freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, what these realists see as sophistication not only is amoral, but actively undercuts long-term U.S. security.

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Obama Would Want UN Permission for Syria Action – But Not Congress’s

Last time this happened with Libya, President Obama claimed he didn’t have time to meet with members of Congress to seek approval before taking military action. Now the Obama administration says it would need to seek UN or NATO approval before intervening in Syria, but not the consent of Congress.

Sen. Jeff Sessions pressed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on the issue during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today:

SESSIONS: “Do you think you can act without Congress and initiate a no-fly zone in Syria without congressional approval?”

PANETTA: “Our goal would be to seek international permission… Whether or not we would want to get permission from the Congress—I think those are issues we would have to discuss as we decide what to do here.”

SESSIONS: “Well I am almost breathless about that because what I heard you say is, ‘we’re going to seek international approval and we’ll come and tell the Congress what we might do, and we might seek congressional approval’… Wouldn’t you agree that would be pretty breathtaking to the average American?”

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Last time this happened with Libya, President Obama claimed he didn’t have time to meet with members of Congress to seek approval before taking military action. Now the Obama administration says it would need to seek UN or NATO approval before intervening in Syria, but not the consent of Congress.

Sen. Jeff Sessions pressed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on the issue during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today:

SESSIONS: “Do you think you can act without Congress and initiate a no-fly zone in Syria without congressional approval?”

PANETTA: “Our goal would be to seek international permission… Whether or not we would want to get permission from the Congress—I think those are issues we would have to discuss as we decide what to do here.”

SESSIONS: “Well I am almost breathless about that because what I heard you say is, ‘we’re going to seek international approval and we’ll come and tell the Congress what we might do, and we might seek congressional approval’… Wouldn’t you agree that would be pretty breathtaking to the average American?”

This isn’t to say there aren’t extenuating circumstances when a president might have to order military action before getting congressional approval, i.e. an imminent national security threat. But if President Bush managed to get congressional approval for Afghanistan and Iraq, President Obama should certainly have the time to get it for Syria.

His reluctance to do so seems purely political: If the administration decides to intervene in Syria, Obama doesn’t want to have to make the case to Congress, and he doesn’t want an official declaration.

But what’s most offensive is that Obama sees the approval of an international body as more important than the approval of the elected representatives of the American people. It’s yet another example of his leading-from-behind policy. The situation in Syria is getting more alarming by the day, and yet Obama won’t dare take action unless an international coalition is there to take the first step with him – and, assumedly, also take the political blame from the White House if things go wrong.

UPDATE: Video of the exchange between Panetta and Sessions added below.

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