When it comes to Israel, the United Nations has a habit of shooting itself in the foot.
It’s about to do so again.
The General Assembly is on the brink of voting for Palestinian statehood when it convenes in mid-September. Palestinian advocates would declare victory in their legitimate quest for statehood, but the practical outcome would be a disaster. It could provoke renewed violence in Gaza and the West Bank and close the door on talks with Israel.
Diplomatically, it would elevate the Palestinian U.N. status to “state observer,” a designation held by the Vatican. But it doesn’t change facts on the ground and makes legitimate sovereignty harder to achieve. The proposal subjects the U.N. to ridicule and comes at the worst possible time for the future of the world body. Consider:
• Recently, the General Assembly had to scramble to expel Libya from membership on the Human Rights Council after the same council referred Libya to the International Criminal Court for investigation of crimes against humanity. (We did not make that up.)
• Topping that for sheer absurdity: Last June, North Korea, a flagrant arms-control violator, was named to fill the rotating presidency of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. And in August it was succeeded by Cuba! (Still not making it up.)
• Oblivious to austerity in public budgets around the world, the agency that governs U.N. salaries granted a 3 percent cost-of-living increase in July to the 4,800 international staff members based in New York. That prompted a sharp protest from U.S. envoy Joseph Torsella, as this country contributes about $3.35 billion annually, more than any other. Failure to reverse this action, he warned, “could well lead to more draconian approaches to budget-balancing in the future.”
Such proposals are on the drawing board.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has introduced legislation with 57 co-sponsors to alter the mandatory funding formula to a voluntary system. It calls for cutting U.S. assessments in half if total funding for the U.N.’s overall budget on a voluntary basis fails to reach 80 percent.
The congresswoman said this “will give the U.S. control over how our contributions are spent.” The legislation also cuts off contributions to any U.N. entity that upgrades the status of the Palestinian mission to the world body.
The frustration of the bill’s backers is understandable when the U.N.’s own actions contradict its stated intentions and aspirations.
Paging Ban Ki-moon!
It’s up to the secretary-general to bring the U.N. back to its senses.
A strong first step would be to set standards for agencies like the Human Rights Council to bar violators like Cuba and Zimbabwe. He must also stop the incessant drumbeat of actions against Israel on the Human Rights Council and in other U.N. agencies.
To his credit, Mr. Ban has taken the unusual step of criticizing the head of a member country, saying Syrian President Bashar Assad has lost “all sense of humanity” because of the government’s brutal efforts to stop protests. About time. And last year, Mr. Ban moved to make the U.N. more efficient by ordering a budget cutback of 3 percent to reflect the need for austerity. Now he also has to make it clear that the upcoming Palestinian vote is a non-starter for peace.
The U.N. remains indispensable. Its peacekeeping forces perform an essential task around the globe. It strives to relieve world hunger, promote gender equality and stop the spread of disease. Unfortunately, it can’t seem to resist actions that too often make the United Nations its own worst enemy.
This opinion piece from the Miami Herald is certainly worth a read. Especially now when the UN seems to be coming to a head on many important global issues. The Arab Spring, the famine crisis, and budget cuts are all putting pressure on the UN to make the right decisions and make them more quickly.