The U.S. Must Stop Funding UN Agencies That Admit the Palestinian Authority

July 13 2018

In 1990 and 1994, Congress enacted laws requiring the government to cease funding any “specialized agencies” or “affiliated organization[s]” of the United Nations that grant full membership to the Palestinian Authority (PA). These laws have become relevant since Mahmoud Abbas began a campaign to join international institutions as a stepping stone to a unilateral declaration of statehood and a tool for lawfare against Israel. Since 2016, the PA joined four such groups, which nonetheless continue to receive funds from the U.S. Eugene Kontorovich argues that these organizations should be defunded, not only on strictly legal grounds but also as a matter of policy:

The acceptance of [the PA as a] member state turns these UN agencies into political tools for Palestinian unilateralism, rather than technical agencies dealing with specialized tasks. Moreover, as evidenced by the Palestinian membership in UNESCO, once it is a part of these agencies, the PA will hijack their agendas and divert them to anti-Israel policies and polemics. . . . [I]f the U.S. does not enforce non-waivable statutory measures triggered by PA action, it will lose its credibility as a potential broker of Middle East peace. Any peace plan will require U.S. assurances to Israel in the event the Palestinians take certain hostile measures. Implementing those assurances will always have a cost, a downside. If the U.S. will not abide by its own statutes when doing so might be uncomfortable, it can hardly be expected to do so with mere diplomatic assurances.

[Furthermore], a failure to implement the funding restrictions will only encourage the PA to step up its “internationalization” campaign. . . . Finally, the UN agencies admitted the PA with full knowledge of the consequences. The UN itself has thus put the promotion of the PA’s agenda above the original goals of these agencies. If mandatory U.S. funding cuts would be destructive to the mission of these organizations, they would not have accepted PA membership. If cutting funding impedes the functioning of these organizations, the solution consistent with U.S. law is not to continue funding, but rather defunding [in order] to pressure the PA to quit the organizations it has already joined.

To those who would argue that the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), joined by the Palestinians in May, is too important to be defunded, Kontorovich replies:

While the U.S. does have a strong interest in OPCW’s inspection and destruction programs, the downsides of PA membership are also greater than for other organizations. The PA will, for example, likely use its new position in the OPCW to trigger international involvement in Israel’s use of tear gas against violent rioters. This is something it can only do as a member. Moreover, if the U.S. does not implement its mandatory defunding in this context, it is likely the PA will be encouraged to seek membership in the even more important International Atomic Energy Agency, creating a serious diplomatic headache for the U.S.

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More about: Congress, Palestinian Authority, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, United Nations

Russia Has No Interest in Curbing Iran in Syria—Despite Putin’s Assurances

July 20 2018

In his joint press conference on Monday with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump stated that in their meeting he had brought up U.S. concerns about the Islamic Republic’s malign influence in the Middle East, and that he’d “made clear [to Putin] that the United States will not allow Iran to benefit from [America’s] successful campaign against Islamic State.” It does not appear, however, that any concrete agreements were reached. To Alexandra Gutowski and Caleb Weiss, it’s clear that agreements will do little, since Putin can’t be trusted to keep his word:

In late June, Russia began to unleash hundreds of airstrikes on [the southwestern Syrian province of] Deraa, in flagrant violation of the U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement that Trump and Putin personally endorsed last November. While Russia struck from the air, forces nominally under the control of Damascus conducted a major ground offensive.

Closer examination shows that the dividing line between Assad’s military and Iranian-aligned forces has become ever blurrier. Before the offensive began, Lebanese Hizballah and other Iranian-backed militias staged apparent withdrawals from the region, only to return after donning [Assad]-regime uniforms and hiding their banners and insignia. Tehran is also directly involved. On July 2, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) died in Deir al-Adas, a village in northern Deraa province along the strategic M5 highway. Persian sources describe him as the commander for the province. [In fact], forces nominally under the control of Damascus are permeated with troops that are at least as close to Tehran. . . .

It’s also becoming clear that Russian aircraft are supporting the efforts of Iranian-backed units nominally under the control of Damascus. . . . Russia has also now deployed military police to hold terrain captured by Iranian-aligned forces, demonstrating a level of coordination as well as Russia’s unwillingness to use its forces for more dangerous offensive operations. These terrain-holding forces free up Iran-aligned actors to continue undertaking offensives toward the Golan.

Reported meetings between militia commanders and Russian officers suggest these operations are coordinated. But even without formal coordination, Russian air cover and Iranian ground offensives are mutually dependent and reinforcing. Iran can’t be in the sky, and Russia refuses to put significant forces on the ground, lest too many return home in body bags. Thus, Putin requires Iran’s forces on the ground to secure his ambitions in Syria.

President Trump should remain highly skeptical of Putin’s interest in serving as a partner in Syria and his ability to do so. The humanitarian relief Putin proposes [for postwar reconstruction] is designed to fortify the regime, not to rehabilitate children brutalized by Assad. Putin also has limited interest in curtailing Iran’s deployment. Russia itself admits that Iran’s withdrawal is “absolutely unrealistic.” Trump should not concede American positions, notably the strategic base at Tanf which blocks Iran’s path to the Mediterranean, for empty promises from Russia. Putin can afford to lie to America, but he can’t afford to control Syria without Iranian support.

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More about: Donald Trump, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin