US mulling ‘consequences’ after Palestinians join international bodies
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US mulling ‘consequences’ after Palestinians join international bodies

State Department calls move by Abbas to sign on to UN agency and 10 conventions ‘counterproductive’; Washington had already planned on cutting funds to UN body

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Palestinian efforts to join international bodies are “premature” and “counterproductive,” a US State Department official said over the weekend, after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas moved to join a UN agency and several international conventions.

On Thursday, Abbas signed documents to join the Universal Postal Union, a UN agency that coordinates international postage, and 10 international protocols and conventions.

“It has been the longstanding position of the United States that efforts by the Palestinians to join international entities are premature and counterproductive,” the State Department official, who asked to remain unnamed, told the Times of Israel in an emailed statement.

“The United States continues to make clear, both with the parties and with international partners, that the only realistic path forward is through direct negotiations aimed at achieving a comprehensive and lasting peace. We are currently reviewing possible consequences of the Palestinians’ recent actions.”

The Palestinians are currently members of dozens of international organizations, protocols and conventions, part of a campaign to gain unilateral recognition of their nascent state as peace talks with Israel have grown moribund.

Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour (white hair) passes by US Ambassador Nikki Haley (seated) during voting, to condemn Israeli actions in Gaza, in the General Assembly June 13, 2018 in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT)

US laws dating to the early 1990s require the American government to cut off funding to any UN organization that grants the Palestinians full membership.

Omar Awadallah, a PA foreign ministry official, said in a phone call on Thursday that the form Abbas signed to join the Universal Postal Union was to gain full membership in the organization.

Awadallah said the documents Abbas signed during a meeting of the Palestine Liberation organization meeting will be formally submitted to the Universal Postal Union and the relevant protocols and conventions in the coming days.

US President George H. Bush is presented a letter carriers bag from Postmaster General Anthony Frank in Washington, Monday, Nov. 13, 1989 as the President attended the opening of the 20th Congress of the Universal Postal Union. (AP/Marcy Nighswander)

US President Donald Trump’s administration had already announced in October its intent to withdraw from the Universal Postal Union for reason unrelated to the Palestinians.

Trump has argued that the organization benefits China and other countries at the expense of US businesses, making it cheaper to ship packages from Beijing to New York than from San Francisco to the US East coast, which particularly benefits Chinese manufacturers.

In addition to the Universal Postal Union, Abbas signed forms to join the Convention on the Nationality of Married Woman; Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Basel Protocol on Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal; the Vienna Convention of Road Traffic; Protocol concerning countries or territories at present occupied; the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages; Agreement Establishing the Common Fund for Commodities; and the International Convention on the Arrest of Ships.

US President Donald Trump answers questions during a signing ceremony of the ‘Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act,’ in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Palestinians maintain that their moves to join international organizations advance their goal of achieving statehood and strengthen their international standing.

However, Israel holds that Palestinian efforts to gain membership in international bodies constitute one-sided measures aimed at achieving statehood while bypassing peace negotiations and undermining the Jewish state’s status in the international community.

Abbas has said recently that a Palestinian agreement with the US not to join international bodies was conditioned on the US embassy not moving to Jerusalem, not changing the status of the PLO mission in Washington, DC, and not cutting aid payments.

In the past year, Trump’s administration has moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, closed the PLO representative office in the American capital and ended almost all of its aid payments for Palestinians.

The PA president has said if the US does not uphold its end of the the agreement, the Palestinians will not maintain their part of it.

The United States withdrew funding for UNESCO after the Palestinians joined the cultural and education agency in 2011 and last year pulled out of the agency altogether.

The Trump administration has also cut funds to the UN Palestinian refugee agency, leaving UNRWA struggling to fill a major budget gap for its education and health programs.

A Palestinian woman walks past a closed health center that run by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) during a strike of all UNRWA institutions in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on September 24, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

In May, the administration said it could cut funding to UN trade development organisation UNCTAD, industrial development agency UNIDO and the Chemical Weapons Convention which is upheld by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, after the Palestinians joined.

Palestine has the status of a non-member observer state at the United Nations. An upgrade to full statehood would require approval by the Security Council, which the US would likely veto.

Agencies contributed to this article.

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