The Coming Crisis Over Palestinian Statehood

[The following article was originally published in National Review Online‘s The Corner.]

Even as we sort out the latest financial crisis, Newt Gingrich is calling our attention to the fact that, in just a few short weeks, we will be confronted by a hostile political power play on the international stage: a push by Palestinians, supported by Islamists, Europeans, and most of the rest of the U.N. to declare Palestinian statehood — with East Jerusalem as the new state’s capital and territory stretching to the 1967 borders (i.e., encompassing some of what is now Israeli territory — thank you, President Obama).

Highlighting Anne Bayefsky’s watchful eye on the U.N., the former House  Speaker notes that in announcing anticipated speakers at the September opening session, the U.N. lists the speaker from “Palestine” as the “Head of State” — the first time this has been done. Speaker Gingrich says of the U.N-Palestinian Authority plan to push for statehood without negotiating with Israel:

It would violate every standing agreement the Palestinians have with Israel, including the Oslo Accords, to negotiate a final border agreement. U.N. recognition would take place totally apart from any negotiation with Israel, and without the Palestinians renouncing violence or acknowledging Israel’s statehood. The possibility of Western nations voting in favor of the plan at the U.N. would also strengthen terrorists’ belief that their commitment to violence and their unwavering rejection of Israel’s right to exist has begun to produce their desired goals.

So what the Obama administration do to thwart this U.N.-driven aggression? Newt argues that we should take a page out of recent history — from 1989, to be precise:

The United States has the leverage to prevent this diplomatic disaster if the Obama Administration wants to use it: we are by far the largest donor to the U.N., financing roughly a quarter of its entire budget.

We should be willing to say that if the U.N. is going to circumvent negotiations and declare the territory of one of its own members an independent state, we aren’t going to pay for it. We can keep our $7.6 billion a year. We don’t need to fund a corrupt institution to beat up on our allies.

That is exactly how President George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker handled a similar drive to force Palestinian statehood in 1989. As Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton has pointed out, the Palestine Liberation Organization attempted at that time to earn recognition by the U.N. as a state, and its effort won significant support. But rather than cave to the Palestinians’ manipulations, Secretary Baker warned that the U.S. would cut off contributions to U.N. agencies if they upgraded the P.L.O.’s status.

It worked back then. Can it work now? Unfortunately, we have an administration more inclined to cause diplomatic disasters than prevent them — one that is more committed to U.N. multilateral governance than U.S. interests (See Doug Feith and Seth Cropsey’s terrific cover essay in the July issue of Commentary), and one that has repeatedly taken the Palestinian side against our ally, reaffirming the U.N. message that terrorism, aggression, and denying a nation-state’s right to exist are perfectly acceptable methods of achieving political objectives.

Nevertheless, as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent visit to Washington illustrated, Israel has very strong bipartisan support in Congress — and Congress can have a major say in whether we fund the U.N. Moreover, as the 2012 campaign heats up, this is an opportunity for GOP presidential candidates to drive the debate and put additional pressure on the White House. On the eve of an important debate among the announced candidates, Speaker Gingrich has picked just the right time to throw down this gauntlet.