Trump may cut funding to UN agencies that accept Palestinians

The Trump administration is weighing funding cuts to two UN organizations that accepted Palestinians as members.

By Batya Jerenberg

The United States is considering whether to cut funding to two UN agencies and its chemical weapons watchdog after the Palestinians joined these organizations, a US official said Wednesday.

In a move aimed at boosting their international profile, the Palestinians have joined the UN trade development organization UNCTAD, industrial development agency UNIDO and the Chemical Weapons Convention which is upheld by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The Palestinian decision to join these organizations was an angry reaction to the Trump administration embassy move to Jerusalem on May 14. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy long-held American guidelines for the PA and apply for membership to these UN agencies.

Now, said an administration official on Wednesday, the US is mulling its response, but there is seemingly little wiggle room for the Americans.

There are two Federal laws from 1990 and 1994, respectively, that require Washington to withdraw funding from any UN agency that either “accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states,” or “grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.”

Former President Barack Obama cut millions of dollars in funding from the United Nations Organization for Education, Science, and Culture (UNESCO) when the PA was accepted into its ranks in 2011.

Trump withdrew American membership from UNESCO altogether in October over its anti-Israel bias. Israel announced its intention to leave the organization by the end of this year for the same reason.

As explained by the unnamed official, “It has been the consistent position of the United States that efforts by the Palestinians to join international organizations are premature and counterproductive.”

But feeling that their rights have been violated by the US, as evidenced by its support of Israel regarding the recent Palestinian violence at the Gaza border as well as the embassy move, the PA leadership decided to make some moves to boost their international standing while thumbing their nose at the president.

The PA, considered by the international organization as a “non-member observer state,” was accepted last week to UNCTAD – the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which helps developing countries use trade, investment, finance, and technology as vehicles for inclusive and sustainable development.

UNIDO – the United Nations Industrial Development Organization — which promotes industrial development and environmental sustainability, also accepted the Palestinians.

So did the Chemical Weapons Convention, which is upheld by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The United States does not belong to UNIDO, but it does belong to the other two agencies that depend on voluntary funding from member-states. If the US does turn off the financial spigot, the loss will certainly be felt by the chemical watchdog immediately as America gave $2 million to the OPCW Trust Fund in 2014, which was almost 25% of the total contributions to that agency. In the case of UNCTAD, its contribution is a much lower percentage of the whole.