A unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations General Assembly would cause incalculable harm to peace and stability in the Middle East. The United States cannot prevent this ill-advised move - it circumvents America's Security Council veto by design - but U.S. leaders can let it be known that the U.N. would incur more than just a political cost.
The United States supplies 22 percent of the United Nation's regular budget, which gives Washington considerable leverage if policymakers choose to use it. Former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton recently pointed out that a similar push for recognition by Palestine Liberation Organization terror leader Yasser Arafat in the late 1980s was shut down when the George H.W. Bush administration threatened to withhold American funds from any U.N. agency that recognized an independent Palestinian entity. There is no reason this cannot work again.
Withholding American funds wouldn't simply be an exercise in sour grapes. A unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood would be an illegal act that would violate the letter and the spirit of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). Those binding resolutions called for a negotiated settlement of the dispute with Israel with "secure and recognized boundaries." A unilateral declaration, however, would not be negotiated and would result in boundaries that are both insecure and unrecognized.
Bipartisan groups in both houses of Congress have already proposed strong action against pro-Palestinian unilateralism. On April 15, Rep. Shelley Berkley, Nevada Democrat, introduced H.R. 1592, which stipulates that "no funds made available for assistance to the Palestinian Authority may be obligated or expended if the president determines and certifies to Congress that the Palestinian Authority has unilaterally declared a Palestinian state." On May 16, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, introduced S.R. 185, which reaffirms "the commitment of the United States to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations" as well as "declaring that Palestinian efforts to gain recognition of a state outside direct negotiations demonstrates absence of a good faith commitment to peace negotiations, and will have implications for continued United States aid."
Most recently, on June 3, Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, introduced H.R. 297, which resolves that the United States should withhold "contributions to the regularly assessed biennial budget of the United Nations ... if the General Assembly adopts a resolution in favor of recognizing a state of Palestine outside of or prior to a final status agreement negotiated between, and acceptable to, the State of Israel and the Palestinians."
On June 7, President Obama rather passively said, "Unilateral actions - such as Palestinians seeking a vote on statehood at the U.N. General Assembly - should be avoided." This is no time for the Obama administration to employ its "lead from behind" approach. The United States should clarify the calculus for countries pondering support for the unilateral statehood scheme. Members of Congress have already pointed the way with suggested language that promises definitive consequences should Turtle Bay bureaucrats move forward on this deplorable plan. It's up to the White House to keep it from happening.
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