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

A Better Syria Strategy Can Help Achieve the U.S. Goal of Countering Iran

While the Trump administration has reversed much of its predecessor’s effort to realign Washington with Tehran, and has effectively used sanctions to exert economic pressure on the Islamic Republic, Omar Hassino argues that these measures might not be enough:

Iran and its militias control more territory and natural resources in Syria and Iraq than before President Trump took office. . . . The U.S. should back the low-cost insurgency approach that has already shown potential in southwest Syria to bleed the Iranian forces and increase the costs of their expansion and [of Tehran’s] support for the Assad regime. It makes no sense that Iran can fund low-cost insurgencies to bleed American allies in the region, but the United States cannot counter with the same. The administration should also consider expanding support to the proxy forces that it currently works with—such as the Revolution Commandos near the [U.S.] al-Tanf garrison in southwest Syria—for the purpose of fighting and eliminating Iranian-backed militias. This limited escalation can curb Iranian expansion and put pressure on the Assad regime in the long term.

Furthermore, in this vein, the U.S. should empower peaceful Syrian civil-society groups and local councils operating outside Assad-regime control. Last year, the Trump administration eliminated assistance for stabilization in Syria, including funding going to secular anti-Assad civil-society groups that were also combating al-Qaeda’s ideology, as well as the Syrian [medical and civil-defense group known as] the White Helmets, before quickly [restoring] some of this funding. Yet the funding has still not completely been resumed, and if this administration takes an approach similar to its predecessor’s in relying on regional powers such as Turkey, these powers will instead fund groups aligned ideologically with Muslim Brotherhood. This is already happening in Idlib.

The United States must [also] jettison the Obama-era [strategy of establishing] “de-escalation zones.” These zones were from the start largely a Russian ruse to help the Assad regime conquer opposition areas, and they succeeded. Now that the regime controls most of Syria and Iranian proxies are dominant within the regime side, support for de-escalation is tantamount to support for Iranian expansion. The United States must [instead] prevent further expansion by the Assad regime and Iran in parts of the country that they still do not control.

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More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy