Friday 28 July 2017

US may cut off UN funds over Palestine state vote

Jon Swaine and Adrian Blomfield

The US could withdraw funding from the United Nations if its members decide to recognise an independent Palestinian state, a close ally of US President Barack Obama has warned.

Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the UN, said there was "no greater threat" to US support and funding of the UN than the prospect of Palestinian statehood being endorsed by member states.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, plans to ask the UN General Assembly, which comprises all 192 members, to vote on recognition at its annual meeting in New York in September.

The US and Israel are pressing Mr Abbas to drop his plans. Mr Obama has strongly opposed the move, raising the prospect of a veto in the UN Security Council, which is expected to vote on a Palestinian statehood proposal in July.

But Palestinian officials have spoken of their determination to circumvent a US veto by deploying a rarely used Cold War mechanism known as "Uniting for Peace" under which a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly can override the Security Council.

Although Palestinians believe they are close to securing such a majority, the General Assembly does not have the power to confer UN membership on a new Palestinian state, meaning that a successful vote would represent little more than a symbolic triumph.

Even so, Republicans in the US Congress are promising to react aggressively to any approval of statehood. Two congressmen have already vowed to initiate bills to withdraw UN funding in the House of Representatives.

Such a development could be devastating to the UN. The US provides almost a quarter of its $2.5bn (€1.7bn) annual budget. Speaking in Washington, Miss Rice said the Obama administration was devoting "extraordinary efforts and energy" to restarting Middle Eastern peace talks.

On the prospect of the vote being approved, she said: "This would be exceedingly politically damaging in our domestic context, as you can well imagine. And I cannot frankly think of a greater threat to our ability to maintain financial and political support for the United Nations in Congress than such an outcome."

A video of Miss Rice making the comments has been taken off the internet. Her spokesman said: "These were informal remarks in a domestic setting."

Veto

The US is desperate to avoid being put into a position of having to wield its veto. With growing international support for Palestinian statehood, even in Europe, the US is looking increasingly isolated in its support for Israel and a veto would badly damage Mr Obama's credentials in a rapidly changing Middle East.

But Mr Obama faces a politically damaging backlash from the pro-Israeli lobby and its many supporters in Congress if he does not block a resolution, a move that could also cost all-important Jewish votes in key swing states during next year's presidential election.

Britain has indicated that it would not join the US in vetoing Palestinian statehood in the Security Council. But British Prime Minister David Cameron is also hoping to avert a highly divisive vote in the General Assembly.

"The question is whether we can do anything that might deflect the Palestinians from going ahead with this," a British diplomatic source said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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