US Senators Threaten Retaliation Against Palestinian UN Bid

The Obama administration strenuously opposed Palestine’s bid at the General Assembly yesterday to upgrade its status to “non-member observer state.” The measure passed overwhelmingly, with the USA one of only 9 countries to vote against the upgrade.

On Capitol Hill yesterday, members of congress were weighing their response. What emerged were two proposed pieces of legislation that could punish the Palestinians–and even the UN–for yesterday’s vote.

An amendment put forward by Senator Orrin Hatch (and co-sponsored by 8 other Republicans) would eliminate all American funding to the United Nations over yesterday’s vote. Given that the USA pays one quarter of the UN’s regular budget and 27% of the UN Peacekeeping budget, this measure would effectively starve the UN of money to conduct its operations around the world. Peacekeeping missions in places like Darfur and Haiti would almost certainly have to shut down; programs to combat malaria and HIV would have to be significantly rolled back; efforts to bring clean drinking water to parts of Africa would dry up; refugees displaced by conflict would have to find their own tents, food, and medicine without much of a helping hand from the international community — all because most of the world thinks Palestine should be granted an upgrade from “permanent observer entity” to “non-member observer state” at the United Nations.

The bill is extremist and a thinly disguised attempt to kill the UN.  It will not gain too much traction in Congress.

A comparably more measured proposal was also offered yesterday, this time from a bi-partisan cohort of Senators.  Republicans Lindsey Graham and Robert Barasso stood side-by-side with Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Robert Menendez to support an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill that would cut off all American aid to the Palestinian Authority should Palestine pursue charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court. It would also evict the Palestinian representatives in Washington, DC unless the president certifies that Palestinians have entered into meaningful negotiations with Israel.

Senator Graham said that about $1 billion in US aid for Palestine could hang in the balance. “We will not use American taxpayer dollars to support a Palestinian entity whose primary goal, if they file a complaint in the ICC, is to marginalize the Jewish state rather than live in peace with the people of Israel,” he said.

Senator Schumer echoed that sentiment. “We stand united in preventing this from happening, and will do everything in our power to block the Palestinians from using the International Criminal Court and other international bodies to assert Palestinian claims against Israel,” he said.

As I and others have argued, it would be very unlikely for the ICC to even take up potential Palestinian claims.  This measure stands a decent chance of passing, which would make that eventuality even more remote.

The USA is not a member of the ICC, so it doesn’t have the kind of financial leverage over the court’s operation as it does over the United Nations.  It would be terribly irresponsible of American senators to cut off the United Nations because most member states of the United Nations disagree with the USA on one specific policy. Why should people in Darfur suffer because American allies like France and Norway happened to disagree with the USA on this issue?

UPDATE: It appears the Hatch amendment has been dropped. Good.