Home inContext Will the UN be the PA’s Undoing?

Will the UN be the PA’s Undoing?

Erin Dwyer

In the wake of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) recent admission into the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Palestinian officials are reportedly preparing to apply for membership to 16 other United Nations organizations, of which some are practically guaranteed. As a full member of UNESCO, Palestinians may automatically obtain membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization, whose rules say acceptance is “equally open” to members of UN specialized agencies. Other UN organizations with special membership rules attractive to the PA include the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

U.S. law holds that Washington must withhold funding from any UN agency that grants full membership to territories not internationally recognized as states, which it did directly following UNESCO’s vote. Israel has since done the same, while Canada has said it will continue giving its annual amount but will not provide any additional money to make up for UNESCO’s new budgeting shortfalls.

David Killion, permanent delegate of the U.S. to UNESCO, reacts as delegates vote on Palestinian membership.

Still, the Palestinian Authority is pushing for membership in various other UN bodies. As Ibrahim Khraishi, a prominent Palestinian envoy at the UN, explained, “We are working on it, one by one. Because it’s now precedent that we are a full member in one of the biggest and one of the most important U.N. agencies, UNESCO. So it will open the door for us now to go further in our efforts to join other U.N. agencies.”

But the question remains, knowing the risks, will more UN agencies accept the Palestinians as a member ‘state’? UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently noted that Palestinian efforts to join more UN bodies are “not beneficial for Palestine and not beneficial for anybody“, as their joining could bring on more funding cuts, impacting millions. And if other bodies decide accepting ‘Palestine’ is not worth the risk, how will the new-found defeat affect the Palestinian Authority’s standing?

The PA for years has used the United Nations to its advantage. But this time, it may have gone too far. In holding some serious purse strings at the UN, Washington may finally be able to tilt its latest Palestinian problem in its favor.