Palestine certainly falls short on the defined-territory criterion. It also arguably lacks a permanent population — Many Palestinians are in refugee camps in neighboring countries. It is questionable that they will be permitted to become citizens of Palestine. The PLO itself maintains that many of them have a “right of return” to Israel. It does not have a government that is the indisputable sovereign authority — Hamas controls the Gaza strip. As for the ability to enter into relations with other states, Hamas has refused to be bound by agreements negotiated by the Palestinian Authority, which it does not recognize as a legitimate institution.
Clinton’s interpretation of the legislation as it applies to the issue of statehood is reasonable. But the U.S. should not rely solely on the second legislative restriction to oppose the Palestinian effort, since it is doubtful that the administration would adhere to it when it realizes the full implications of that position. Objecting to Palestine’s membership because it lacks “the internationally recognized attributes of statehood” will inevitably raise the question — certainly in Congress as it deliberates closing budget deficits — of why the United States is not also applying that standard to other failed states that are members of the United Nations. To highlight just one obvious example, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government is voting in the United Nations on behalf of Somalia even though it controls only a fraction of Somali territory and falls short of most standards for statehood.
The United States is on strong ground for opposing Abbas’s effort beyond the withholding question, given that there is no unified government and that the two entities that claim control of parts of the Palestinian territories are closely tied to the PLO and Hamas, entities sanctioned under U.S. law. To the extent that the administration wishes to use the threat of financial withholding, which will be particularly useful in U.N. organizations where the U.S. cannot block Palestine’s membership through its Security Council veto, the PLO restriction should also be utilized. If embraced by the administration, is far more likely to be applied consistently.
— Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at the Heritage Foundation.