WASHINGTON – A leading Republican congresswoman will soon introduce legislation that would withhold US contributions to any UN entity that recognizes a Palestinian state or upgrades the status of the PLO observer mission.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, plans to include the measure in a comprehensive bill to reform the UN she is expected to file in the coming weeks, according to Capitol Hill aides.
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The language dealing with the Palestinians would seek to make it US policy to “oppose efforts by the Palestinian leadership to evade a negotiated settlement with Israel and undermine opportunities for peace by seeking de facto recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN,” according to her office.
To give that policy teeth, the legislation would require the US to withhold funding for any UN body that granted such recognition, either through passing a UN resolution or through granting membership to “Palestine” in participating agencies.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to go to the UN in September for recognition of a unilateral declaration of statehood. Though the US is expected to veto any such recognition at the UN Security Council – the body which would give the declaration the force of law – the General Assembly is widely expected to approve a symbolic declaration.
The US is attempting to stop that effort, and President Barack Obama on Tuesday reiterated his disapproval of such a move.
Standing beside German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a White House press conference, Obama said, “We agree that unilateral actions – such as Palestinians seeking a vote on statehood at the UN General Assembly – should be avoided.”
He also said that Merkel supported “the principles that I laid out last month as the basis for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” which included the position that the pre- 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps should serve as the basis for a Palestinian state.
Critics of the president, however, have called on him to be more forceful and detailed about what the US will do to stop the Palestinians from appealing to the General Assembly.
John Bolton, who served as ambassador to the UN during the George W. Bush administration, recommended in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week that Congress pass the type of legislation to be proposed by Ros-Lehtinen.
He referred to the precedent during the George H.W. Bush administration in which the Palestinians unilaterally declared statehood and then tried to join UN agencies as a member state. To stop the move, then-secretary of state James Baker threatened that US money to any UN agency that did so would be halted, and his approach serves as the model for Ros-Lehtinen’s bill.
“I think there would be broad support for something limiting funding [to the UN] based on what happens at the UN,” said one aide to a representative on the House Appropriations Committee of the possibility of Congress holding up funding if the General Assembly recognizes a Palestinian state in September.
While Republicans have long championed UN reform and in many cases limiting contributions to the body, Democrats have been wary of conditioning funds on the grounds that it diminishes US clout in the international arena, among other concerns. Any bill passed by the Republican- dominated House would likely face an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Ros-Lehtinen also introduced bipartisan legislation this week to crack down on Iran, North Korea and Syrian proliferation activity.
The bill, co-sponsored by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Terrorism, Non-Proliferation and Trade Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Sherman (D-California), would expand the range of prohibited activities subject to sanctions.
It comes on the heals of another bipartisan measure filed by Ros-Lehtinen and the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-California) to tighten Iran sanctions passed by Congress last summer, by increasing the targeting of human rights abusers and investors in Iran’s energy sector.
Obama on Tuesday also spoke about the possibility of further Iran sanctions, given the doubts raised by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency about whether its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.
“Iran’s continuing nuclear program, and its refusal to engage in any meaningful talks with the international community, remain a very serious concern,” Obama said. “If the International Atomic Energy Agency this week determines again that Iran is continuing to ignore its international obligations, then we will have no choice but to consider additional steps, including potentially additional sanctions, to intensify the pressure on the Iranian regime.”