Diplomacy

Following U.S. Pressure, PA Withdraws Bid to Join UN Body

On Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority (PA) withdrew its attempt to gain full membership in the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) due to American pressure.

The chairman of the UN’s tourism body announced during a meeting in Chengdu that UNTWO will postpone a vote on accepting the PA as a member until its next plenary session, which takes place in two years, Haaretz reported.

The PA submitted its request for membership of “Palestine” in UNTWO in September 2016. Had the application gone through, the organization would have been the second UN body, after UNESCO, to grant them the same status accorded to fully recognized states.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision. A spokesman said that Israel’s position is that the “State of Palestine” does not exist, which makes it impossible for the PA to apply for full membership in the UN or affiliated institutions.

“Israel has taken all diplomatic measures to block the request,” a spokesperson stated ahead of the announcement. “We are not expecting any negative impact on Israel or its continued activity in the organization – the expected damage will be to the organization itself,” he added.

In its effort to block the Palestinian application, Israel got the Trump administration involved, which warned that the decision to grant them UNTWO membership could have negative consequences for the relationship between the PA and the United States.

According to Haaretz, a senior Israeli official confirmed that the Palestinians pulled their application following intense pressure from the Trump administration. However, a senior White House official said the decision to backtrack from the initiative was an internal PA matter.

When White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and his team met PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah last month, the U.S. delegation reportedly urged the PA to refrain from unilateral action in the international fora over the next months to give peace negotiations a chance.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has vowed to make the UN a more welcoming place for Israel. In January 2017, he said that “Israel needs to be considered as a state as the same as all the others with exactly the same rights and obligations and without any form of discrimination.”

However, the Secretary General acknowledged that in other UN institutions, decisions can be “totally dependent on the governing bodies which are the member states,” and therefore beyond his control, referring to a controversial move that granted the Palestinians full membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2011.

In response, both the U.S. and Israel cut their funding to the UN body, which amounted to a quarter of its total budget. Defying two UNESCO resolutions that deny the historic link between Judaism and the Temple Mount, Guterres said “it is clear to me that the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, it was a Jewish temple…these are the facts that nobody can deny.”

[Photo: Christopher Neugebauer / Flickr]