Today, the United Nations General Assembly will reportedly vote to change the status of the Palestinian Mission. It will become a “state” with observer status, making it essentially equivalent to the Vatican/Holy See. This would violate numerous commitments the Palestinians have made to the Israelis to handle questions of statehood through two-party talks, not through outside groups. If the U.N. takes this step, there should be consequences — for the Palestinians, the U.N., and potentially for all states voting to undermine these commitments.
Thorny status issues can only be resolved when the parties are left to negotiate themselves, uninterrupted by outside interference. Both sides have agreed with that view. The 1995 Oslo II Agreement and the 1998 Wye River Memo prohibit either side from “chang[ing] the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
Today’s action by the U.N. would violate those agreements. It would place itself between the Israelis and Palestinians in their efforts to resolve these issues themselves. It would do so to the detriment of our steadfast ally Israel. That’s especially disappointing coming so soon after Palestinian terrorists were indiscriminately firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians.
If the U.N. goes ahead with this vote, Congress should consider reducing our financial contributions to the U.N. as well as America’s financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority. Congress should also reevaluate the financial aid we give to any country that undermines the peace negotiations by voting in favor of changing the status of the Palestinian Mission.
Yesterday, I introduced an amendment to the Senate defense bill that makes it clear that undermining the peace process comes at a cost. My amendment will specifically cut 50 percent of the total U.S. funds to the Palestinian Authority and also to any U.N. entity that grants the Palestinians a status change. It also reduces by 20 percent all U.S. foreign assistance to any country voting for the status change.
The Palestinians have a history of trying to use outside groups like the U.N. to skirt the peace process. In 2011, the Palestinians sought membership in UNESCO, and got it. This automatically triggered legal restrictions on U.S. financial support, and the Obama administration was forced to cut aid to UNESCO.
At the beginning of this year, the Obama administration irresponsibly changed course and said that it would try to waive these restrictions. It signaled that the United Nations can continue to undermine that peace process with impunity and raised questions about President Obama’s support for Israel. Today’s U.N. vote is a direct consequence of the administration’s record of mixed signals about the peace process.
A comprehensive and lasting peace between these parties can only come to pass through direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The international community should be united in pushing both sides to the negotiating table, not rewarding one of them for violating previous agreements.
The administration and Congress should make it clear that the path to peace in the Middle East does not run through the United Nations.
John Barrasso, a United States senator from Wyoming, is chairman of Senate Republican Policy Committee