The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Palestinian Authority vs Obama at UN

Obama’s first term had some notable foreign policy successes, but his handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was decidedly not one of them. Indeed, his mishandling of the issue early in his first term has rendered his subsequent peace initiatives ineffective and left a legacy of strained relations with both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Now the failures of his first term are coming home to roost. Bloomberg reports that the Palestinian Authority is appealing for an upgrade to their UN status in a venue the U.S. can’t block (the General Assembly, as opposed to the Security Council). This move could jeopardize the already rocky relationship between the Obama Administration and the Palestinian Authority:

The Palestinian Authority yesterday circulated a resolution to put the Palestine Liberation Organization on a par with the Holy See, according to a draft that will be put to a vote in the UN’s 193-member General Assembly, where the initiative has enough support to pass and the U.S. lacks veto power.

The latest steps by the Palestinians present Obama with his first foreign-policy challenge three days after he won a second term. A year ago, the Palestinians abandoned an attempt to be recognized as a full member state through the Security Council after Obama indicated the U.S. would use its veto there.

Under U.S. law, the Administration has to oppose this, and may be forced to cut off funding to UN organizations that, after the Assembly vote, the Palestinians may be eligible to join:

When the Palestinian Authority was accepted last year into the UN cultural agency UNESCO, best known for its designation of “world heritage” sites, the U.S. response was to cut off funding that provides almost a quarter of the agency’s budget.

The U.S. has said that American law would require similar cutoffs for any UN agency that grants the Palestinians the same status as member states.

If this passes, the U.S. may ultimately be forced to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority, a step that would only serve to strengthen more radical Palestinian factions, most notably Hamas. It’s safe to say that this isn’t how President Obama wanted to start off his second term.

The president will need to find a way to relaunch his Middle East peace diplomacy, but this isn’t going to be easy. The legacy of the first term will haunt new efforts to relaunch a meaningful peace process.

Published on November 12, 2012 1:00 pm