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Monday, April 16, 2012

Palestine's application for U.N. membership

December 2011, Pages 17-18
United Nations Report

United Nations Report: Washington Impaling Itself on the Horns of a Diplomatic Dilemma

By Ian Williams

williamsPalestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (l) formally submits papers for admission to the U.N. as a member state to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the U.N. General Assembly’s meeting in New York City, Sept. 23, 2011. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In the twisted chains of events in the Middle East, one set of links is clear. Almost 500 Palestinian prisoners—and Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit—released on Oct. 12, with a second group of 555 Palestinian prisoners to be released later, owe their freedom to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' determination to push the U.N. membership issue. Binyamin Netanyahu could have freed Shalit any time on these same terms—but the Palestinian statehood issue, for psychopathological reasons we have discussed earlier in these columns, rattles the Israeli prime minister and his supporters so much that he was prepared to give Hamas a boost against Fatah with the release.

Those of us who savor fine hypocrisies will also relish the irony of long negotiations resulting in a political boost for a movement with which Israel says the rest of the world should have no contact. One almost looks forward to the arrest, indictment and trial of Israeli leaders on their next visit to the U.S., where people are serving long sentences for much less substantial contact and support for Hamas related organizations!

However, back to the main issue, Palestine's application for U.N. membership is now languishing in a Security Council subcommittee, few of whose members seem eager to bring the issue to a head. No matter what the Obama administration does now, it is cruising for a diplomatic bruising. While U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is not as pugnacious as her predecessor John Bolton, or indeed James Baker, in rounding up votes in the U.N., the Obama administration has been trying hard—despite Washington's weakened clout—to persuade vulnerable states that it is in their best interests not to vote yes in the Security Council. If the resolution accepting Palestinian membership does not garner nine positive votes, then—in the spirit of the toddler who hides behind the drapes and can't understand that everyone can see his feet sticking out—the U.S. hopes to escape the contumely it richly merits for vetoing a resolution fulfilling the wishes expressed by the president just a year earlier.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. scarcely felt the need to justify what it wanted. Now, over-extended militarily, wobbling financially, its carrots are stringy and its stick detumescent, so it has to explain why Russia is being unreasonable in blocking the membership of Kosovo, recognized by about half of the U.N., while a White House-threatened veto of membership for Palestine, recognized by more than two-thirds of U.N. members, is statesmanship of a high order.
Indeed, inquiring minds might well compare the Russian and Chinese vetoes against action in Syria to prevent repression, with those by the U.S. against any resolution that even mildly criticizes Israel for documented repression in the occupied territories—as listed by the State Department's own annual reports on human rights and religious freedom!
And more Israel Lobby-induced mayhem was heading down the turnpike toward Washington, with UNESCO's scheduled late fall vote on its board's recommendation for Palestine's full membership status in the agency's general council. Forty of the 58 board members backed a Palestinian draft resolution proposing membership, with the U.S. among four voting against, and 14 abstentions—countries which do not really oppose it but don't want to upset the U.S.

The Vatican Precedent

This has a double significance. Firstly, the Vatican's convoluted route to acceptance as a non-member observer state at the U.N. began with it being "smuggled" into membership of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) by the devotee who headed the organization at the time. After all, the Vatican had its own stamps—a nice little earner—and its own radio station, which got it into the International Telecommunications (then Telegraph) Union. It was never allowed to join the League of Nations, nor for many decades would Washington countenance U.N. membership—but the Vatican had a long-term strategy, as one would expect, on how a postage stamp state with a population of a few hundred celibates could get more recognition.
The U.N. invited members of the specialized agencies to participate, but not vote, in the General Assembly and, nudged along, gave such entities, which included Switzerland for half a century, a vote in conferences.
Echoing the issue of whether President Abbas represents the PLO, Palestine, or the Palestinian Authority, it is the Vatican City which is a member of the two U.N. agencies. Half a century ago, however, it switched the name of its U.N. observer mission to the Holy See—then separated the Holy See as the Catholic Church from the Holy See as the entity holding sovereignty over the Vatican City!
In a little noticed move in 2004, the General Assembly upgraded the Vatican's status from an entity—Palestine's current designation—to a non-member state. The U.S., which opposes such status for the several million Palestinians, did not object.
So, under existing rules, membership in UNESCO would take Palestinian participation out of the special case situation it currently occupies as a result of 20 years of diplomatic war by attrition, and bring it under general rules that the U.S. and Israel would have no chance of overturning.

Renewed Assaults on the U.N.

But there is, of course, more. After some years of the puzzling sound of silence regarding the U.N., some of the Republican right and their Democratic allies whose hearts beat as one with the Likudnik pacemaker have been building up for a renewed assault on the U.N. and all its works. They have passed legislation that would require the U.S. to pull its funding—and membership—from any body that gives "full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood." The legislation is of course weaselly worded to mean Palestine—but not the Vatican—while interestingly leaving Taiwan in limbo.
That would present an interesting quandary for Hillary Clinton, who, visiting UNESCO headquarters in Paris this year, declared, "I am proud to be the first secretary of state from the United States ever to come to UNESCO, and I come because I believe strongly in your mission." That dilemma could be resolved immediately, of course, if the president and the State Department determined that in fact Palestine does have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood. After all, Kosovo, under U.S. sponsorship, has joined the World Bank and IMF—which should, if U.N. membership were the determinant, have the U.S. pulling out and defunding those organizations as well. Looking at the damage they have done worldwide, that might not be such a bad idea—but in any case, no one has brought it up hitherto.
The diplomatic dilemma on the horns of which the administration is impaling itself becomes more barbed with each passing denial of reality.
By U.N. custom, once one agency has accepted a member, all other U.N. agencies also accord it full rights, as the Vatican demonstrates. Since the World Bank and IMF are quantum U.N. agencies—in and out at the same time, depending on what suits them—Kosovo cannot yet lever membership there into other U.N. agencies. UNESCO membership, however, like the UPU, opens the doors to all the others.
So the U.S. can either pull out of all the U.N. agencies this administration holds dear—including the U.N. itself—if the General Assembly accepts the Holy See way to Palestinian participation, or it can accept Palestine as a state under international law. Washington could, of course, suggest that the case be referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague for an advisory opinion. That, however, would then imply accepting other ICJ judgements, such as the one against the U.S. mining of Nicaragua's harbors—and on Israel's occupation wall.

A Hard-Hitting Report

The latter, of course, is long overdue. On Sept. 16, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon submitted the report requested by the General Assembly on Israeli settlement activities. Citing instance after instance of violent discriminatory behavior, the hard-hitting report "seeks to underscore the discriminatory nature of the Israeli policy and practice of promoting settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. While illegal settlement expansion continues to take place in the West Bank, restrictions on Palestinian construction and the demolition of Palestinian homes have been on the rise. The report also addresses settlers' violent acts against Palestinians and their properties during the reporting period and the discriminatory treatment of Israeli settlers and Palestinians in law enforcement. The involvement of Israel Defense Forces in acts of violence, either through their participation or inaction to prevent the acts, is discussed as a growing concern."
But perhaps most timely for those expressing shock and horror at the Palestinians undertaking due process to secure the rights as a state that most nations grant them is the report's conclusion: "The General Assembly and the international community should more actively seek the implementation of their decisions, resolutions and recommendations, as well as those of the Security Council, the International Court of Justice and the United Nations human rights mechanisms, including treaty bodies and special procedure mandate holders, in relation to the situation of human rights and international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory."
It puts in perspective the U.S. threat to defund all Palestinian activities in retaliation for the statehood bid—as, indeed, does the promise to increase aid to the state that is defying not only the U.N., but U.S. pleas, and continuing to build settlements.

Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations and has a blog at <>.
December 2011, Pages 30-31
Congress Watch

Congress Echoes Israel's Near Hysteria Over Palestinians' U.N. Bid

By Shirl McArthur

Throughout the summer many Israeli politicians seemed to be in a state of near hysteria over the possibility that the Palestinians would seek to gain recognition of a state through the U.N. It is unclear why this was considered such a threat to Israel, except that it might hinder Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's apparent strategy of pretending to want to negotiate while relentlessly expanding Israeli colonies in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
On cue, AIPAC and other far-right Jewish-American groups and individuals began whipping Congress to forcefully respond with anti-Palestinian measures, including cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA). It was no surprise that Israel's bought-and-paid-for members of Congress were eager to take up the cry. No fewer than 10 senators and 35 House members spoke out in one forum or another denouncing the Palestinians and praising Israel. As reported in the Washington Report's September/October issue, under AIPAC pressure Congress passed non-binding resolutions—S.Res. 185 in the Senate and H.Res. 268 in the House—threatening, among other things, to cut off aid to the Palestinians if they persist in their statehood efforts. In July, House foreign aid appropriations subcommittee chair Kay Granger (R-TX) and ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (D-NY) wrote to PA President Mahmoud Abbas making the same threat, and on Sept. 15, 58 House Democrats, led by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), wrote to 40 European heads of state urging them to "stand with the United States" in opposing "unilateral" action by the PA at the U.N. On Sept. 20, just before President Barack Obama's speech to the U.N., 14 senators wrote to him urging that he use his speech to restate strong U.S. support for Israel, which is just what he did.
Legislatively, the previously described measures supporting Israel's Likud-led government's intransigence made no progress. However, three new measures were introduced. On Sept. 8, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) joined by 42 of his Republican colleagues, introduced H.Res. 394 "supporting Israel's right to annex Judea and Samaria in the event that the Palestinian Authority continues to press for unilateral recognition" of statehood at the U.N. And on Sept. 12 Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), with three co-sponsors, introduced H.R. 2893 "to prohibit Foreign Military Financing program assistance to countries that vote in the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state in the absence of a negotiated border agreement" between Israel and the PA. In the Senate, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), with 18 Republican co-sponsors, on Sept. 21 introduced S. 1595 prohibiting funding for the U.N. if the Security Council or UNGA grants Palestine a change in status in the absence of a comprehensive peace agreement.

Israel's bought-and-paid-for members of Congress were eager to take up the cry.

Then, on Oct. 1, Agence France Presse reported that a coalition of Israel-backing Democrats and conservative Republicans in both the House and Senate were blocking about $200 million of aid to the Palestinians "until the Palestinian statehood issue is sorted out." However, on Oct. 3 Reuters quoted State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland as saying the administration is in "intensive" discussions with key members to unblock the money.
And Congress' most reliable Israel-firster, House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), held a Sept. 14 hearing on "Re-examining Aid to the Palestinians," packed with pro-Israel witnesses. Ros-Lehtinen's opening statement was predictably harsh, saying that Washington not only should cut off aid to the Palestinians, but should withhold funding to any U.N. entity that granted membership, or any upgraded status, to the PA.

But Israel May Be Having Second Thoughts

Ros-Lehtinen was probably disappointed in some of her witnesses' statements, especially those of neocons Eliot Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations and David Makovsky of the AIPAC-created Washington Institute of Near East Policy. Both said that cutting off Palestinian aid could be harmful to Israel by, among other things, ending U.S.-Palestinian security cooperation and possibly causing the collapse of the PA. Indeed, the Israeli government may have begun to realize that continuing aid to the Palestinians is indeed in Israel's interest. Reuters on Sept. 16 reported that Israel on Sept. 18 would submit a report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee coordinating assistance to the Palestinians urging the international community to continue aid to the Palestinians.

Record 81 House Members on AIPAC-Sponsored Boondoggle to Israel

During August a record 81 House members—26 Democrats led by Minority Whip Hoyer and 55 Republicans led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), visited Israel courtesy of the "American Israel Education Foundation" (AIEF), a sham AIPAC spin-off. The Capitol Hill publication Roll Call estimated that the cost to the AIEF could total more than $1 million. Roll Call also pointed out that the AIEF and AIPAC share the same address, employees and board members, and the AIEF's executive director and its other employees all receive their salaries from AIPAC. (See this issue's postcard insert.)
In 2007 Congress passed a law banning lobbying groups from paying for House members to take long trips. However, the law included a provision exempting non-profit groups. Roll Call quoted the watchdog group Public Citizen's Craig Holman as saying "I call it the 'AIPAC loophole.'"

"Palestinian Accountability" Bill Makes Some Progress

While the anti-Palestinian measures described in previous issues have made no progress, H.R. 2457, the "Palestinian Accountability Act," introduced in July by Walsh, has gained six co-sponsors, and now has 39, all Republicans. Its stated purpose is "to restrict funds for the Palestinian Authority." Unless certain unlikely conditions are met, it would prohibit U.S. government documents from referring to areas controlled by the PA as Palestine; would prohibit U.S. funds to the PA; would prohibit U.S. funds to the U.N. or any U.N. entity if it declares or recognizes statehood for the Palestinian territories, and would bar U.S. funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which aids Palestinian refugees, unless it meets the same conditions imposed on the Palestinians.

Jerusalem Embassy, Anti-Boycott Bills

The AIPAC-promoted, previously described H.R. 1006, introduced in March by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), continues to make slow progress. It would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, cut off some State Department funding unless the U.S. Embassy in Israel is established in Jerusalem no later than Jan. 1, 2013, and remove the presidential waiver authority included in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. It has gained eight co-sponsors and now has 51, including Burton.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) introduced two measures opposing the Arab boycott of Israel. In May he introduced, with three co-sponsors, H.R. 2004, whose primary focus is to prohibit or control technology transfer to any country supporting acts of terrorism. However, it also includes a provision directing the president to issue regulations prohibiting any U.S. citizen from taking any actions supporting "any foreign-imposed or -fostered boycott against a country that is friendly to the U.S." Then, on July 19 he introduced H.R. 2589, whose only provisions are "to prohibit certain activities in support of the Arab League boycott of Israel."

U.N. Reform Bill Finally Introduced

Ros-Lehtinen, with 112 Republican co-sponsors, on Aug. 30 introduced H.R. 2829, her long-awaited "U.N. Transparency, Accountability, and Reform" bill. To say it is extreme would be an understatement. It is clear that Ros-Lehtinen's objective is to make U.S. funding of the U.N. conditional on its treatment of Israel and the Palestinians. Among the bill's many harsh measures are those that would "withhold U.S. contributions from any U.N. agency or program that upgrades the status of the PLO Palestinian observer mission;" withhold funding for UNRWA; call for the U.S. to lead a high-level U.N. effort for "the revocation and repudiation of the Goldstone Report;" shift U.S. contributions to the U.N. to a voluntary basis; and halt new U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions until reforms are implemented.
"Even before I was a Democrat, I was a Zionist" Berman, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said it would "eviscerate" the U.N. and called it radical, ill-advised and probably dead on arrival. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Esther Brimmer said the bill's measures were "backward" and would seriously undermine America's role as a world leader. U.N. Foundation vice-president Peter Yeo said that not only was the bill unwise and would undermine the U.S. position at the U.N., but that it also has no chance of becoming law.
It is not clear why Ros-Lehtinen continues to introduce such extreme measures as this bill and the Foreign Affairs Authorization bill, described in the September/October issue, that have no chance of being enacted. Perhaps it is part of a broader, Republican 2012-election strategy to compel Democrats to oppose them so as to somehow paint them as being "soft" on Israel. Or perhaps she wants to beat her 2010 record as second-highest House recipient of pro-Israel PAC contributions ($45,000, for a career total of $208,740).

Iran, Syria Sanctions Bills Continue to Gain Support

The two comprehensive Iran sanctions bills being pushed by AIPAC continue to gain co-sponsors. H.R. 1905, introduced in May by Ros-Lehtinen, titled the "Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011," has gained 91 co-sponsors and now has 298, including Ros-Lehtinen. S. 1048, introduced in May by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) "to expand sanctions with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran, North Korea, and Syria," has gained 22 co-sponsors and now has 75, including Menendez. However, neither bill has been brought to the floor of the House or Senate.
On Aug. 9, 92 senators, led by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL)—who received more pro-Israel PAC contributions ($115,304) than any 2010 candidate—and Charles Schumer (D-NY), wrote to Obama urging him to impose sanctions on Iran's Central Bank to help thwart Iran's nuclear programs.
On Aug. 2 Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and two co-sponsors introduced S. 1496, "to prohibit the delegation by the U.S. of inspection, certification, and related services to a foreign classification society that provides comparable services to Iran, North Korea, North Sudan, or Syria."
H.R. 2105, introduced by Ros-Lehtinen in June to expand sanctions on "foreign persons who transfer to Iran, North Korea, and Syria certain goods, services or technology," has gained two co-sponsors and now has five, including Ros-Lehtinen.
H.R. 2106, also introduced by Ros-Lehtinen in June, has gained 33 co-sponsors and now has 35, including Ros-Lehtinen. It would "strengthen sanctions against the government of Syria, enhance multilateral commitment to address the government of Syria's threatening policies, and establish a program to support a transition to a democratic government in Syria." It would also restrict Obama's authority to waive sanctions on Syria. And H.Res. 296, introduced in June by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) has gained two co-sponsors and now has 34, including Lamborn.
On Aug. 9 Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), with 10 co-sponsors, introduced S. 1472. It would direct the president to impose a wide range of sanctions aimed at Syria's petroleum sector, including sanctions against a person who invests at least $20 million that contributes to Syria's ability to develop petroleum resources; sells goods or services to Syria that could facilitate Syria's domestic production of refined petroleum products; or purchases Syrian-developed petroleum resources.
On Aug. 3, 68 senators signed a letter to Obama urging him to impose tougher sanctions on Syria, including stringent sanctions on Syria's banking sector and a ban on U.S. businesses operating or investing in Syria.

Some Attention Paid to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Even Libya and Iraq

Most of the previously described measures concerning Afghanistan have received no further support. However, H.R. 1735, the "Afghanistan Exit and Accountability" bill introduced in May by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) has gained two co-sponsors and now has 75, including McGovern. It would require the president to submit to Congress "a plan with a timeframe and completion date for the accelerated transition of U.S. military and security operations in Afghanistan to the government of Afghanistan" within 60 days. On Oct. 5 Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), with one co-sponsor, introduced H.Res. 423 urging the U.S. to "empower and recognize Afghanistan's ethnic diversity through free local and provincial elections and replace the present failed centralized system of government with a federal political structure."
Regarding Pakistan, H.R. 1790, introduced May 5 by Rohrabacher, which would prohibit assistance to Pakistan, still has no co-sponsors. Similarly, H.R. 3013, introduced Sept. 22 by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), which also would prohibit aid to Pakistan, also has no co-sponsors. On Oct. 6 Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) introduced H.R. 3115 "to prohibit non-security assistance to Pakistan."
With the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq more or less on schedule, most members seemed satisfied with occasional hearings to get status reports. However, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), with 43 co-sponsors, on Aug. 1 introduced another Iraq withdrawal measure, H.R 2757. It would "prohibit the use of funds to maintain U.S. Armed Forces and military contractors in Iraq after Dec. 31, 2011." Similarly, regarding Libya, with the fall of the Qaddafi regime the previously described Libya-related measures have languished. One new one, H.J.Res. 74, was introduced July 26 by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), with three co-sponsors. It would authorize the limited use of U.S. Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya, but require the president to consult frequently with Congress regarding U.S. efforts in Libya.

Shirl McArthur, a retired U.S. foreign service officer, is a consultant based in the Washington, DC area.

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