The Multilateralist

Palestinian Official Warns of UN Membership Push

Palestinian Official Warns of UN Membership Push

The U.N. General Assembly’s vote to accord Palestine non-member observer status in November 2012 had plenty of drama. The vote was followed by a standing ovation, singing, and even a few tears.

For all the attention it received, that decision was just one phase of the Palestinian push for integration into the UN system. It didn’t grant Palestine full UN membership or make it a member of the myriad independent agencies and bodies that do much of the UN’s actual work. The question of whether and when Palestine will push for fuller participation has been hanging over the heads of diplomats ever since. The Telegraph reports today on one indication that Palestinian officials may make a new push:

Speaking after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for a second session of talks on Tuesday, Mrs Ashrawi said seeking redress through international bodies might be the only way to stop Israel from building settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank on land the Palestinians want for a future state.

"If Israel persists in such policies….we will have no other option but recourse to international law and international agencies," she told journalists outside the West Bank village of Beit Jala, close to the settlement of Gilo, south of Jerusalem, which Israel recently announced plans to extend.

"At the last meeting, the {PLO} executive committee decided that if the US and the international community does not stop Israel from pursuing such a policy, we will have to have resort to international law [and] judicial venues in order to put an end to such Israeli measures that are designed to destroy the chances of peace."

Palestinian officials say they have identified 16 UN bodies they could sign up at short notice, although an application to join high profile organisations such as the International Criminal Court is unlikely at this stage.

If Palestine follows through with that plan, it would provoke new turmoil in the relationship between the United States and the United Nations. In the 1990s, Congress mandated that the United States cease funding for any UN body that admits Palestine as a member. As a result, the United States stopped paying its assessed dues to UNESCO, which admitted Palestine as a member in late 2011. Later this year, accumulated U.S. arrears to that organization may cause the United States to lose its vote (for a good summary of U.S. relations with UNESCO, see this Congressional Research Service report).

The UNESCO saga could be just the beginning. Absent (very unlikely) Congressional action to modify the legislation, that story could repeat itself across the UN system.