Palestine Seeks to Join UN Treaties and Conventions. What This Means

With American-backed peace talks stalled between Palestine and Israel, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas signed applications to join 15 United Nations treaties and conventions.

Here they are:

1. The Four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the First Additional Protocol
2. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
3. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
4. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict
5. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
6. The Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land
7. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
8. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties
9. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
10. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
11. The United Nations Convention against Corruption
12. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
13. The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid
14. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
15. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

What is interesting is what is left off this list. The Palestinians are not seeking to join key UN bodies, like the World Health Organization, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, nor the International Atomic Energy Agency. Nor are they seeking to join the International Criminal Court. Rather, they are simply signaling their intention to join treaties and conventions governing how the Palestinian authority behaves internally.

The Palestinians are clearly holding their diplomatic fire for now.

The practical effects of Palestinians joining these UN treaties are not terribly significant to international relations. However, if the Palestinians seek membership to an organization like the International Atomic Energy Agency, this could have serious consequences across the international system. This is because an American law on the books since the mid 1990s forces the USA to suspend funding from any UN entity that admits Palestine as member.

It does not look like Congress is going to amend this law anytime soon. So, if Palestine joins the IAEA, the USA has to suspend all funding — which would include weapons inspections in Iran and elsewhere.  This happened in 2012 to UNESCO, when UNESCO member states admitted Palestine. Since then, the UN’s scientific and cultural organization saw its funding cut by almost a third. This included funding for American priorities like literacy training for the Afghan police and a Tsunami early warning system in the Caribbean.

Seeking membership to these UN bodies is the Palestinians’s real trump card. If Palestine joins the WHO, IAEA, OPCW and lesser known technical organizations like the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Universal Postal Union, those entities will see their operations curtailed. This will negatively affect American security interests, undermine the fight against global diseases  and outbreaks, and hinder global commerce.

So far, the Palestinians have not played this card, which leaves me somewhat hopeful that the move today was more of a warning that this next step is on the way unless the White House can pressure Israel to meaningfully negotiate toward a two-state solution. Let’s hope everyone heeds this warning.