By: Rebecca Medrano
The UN Security Council last month adopted a resolution that could be the most expensive ever to come out of the United Nations. Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank, passed with 14 ‘yes’ votes and one abstention from the U.S. The United States has veto power in the Security Council and has used it for similar resolutions in the past, but the decision by the former President Barack Obama administration to abstain represented a break from the longstanding U.S. policy of shielding Israel from U.N. reproaches.
The abstention has fueled harsh criticisms from key Republicans and conservative leaders, including calls to cut significant U.S. funding of the world organization and its programs unless the resolution is repealed. If such cuts were to occur, it would be an overreaction and would be responsible for endangering the foreign policy, national security and priorities of both the U.S. and Israel.
Since the UN’s founding in 1945, the United States has been the organization’s largest funder. Currently, U.S. funding accounts for around 22% of the UN’s regular budget and 28% of all UN Peacekeeping operations. “If the UN moves forward with the ill-conceived resolution, I will work to form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce U.S. assistance to the UN,” tweeted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham and other opponents of the abstention have also threatened to reconsider financial support for the nations that voted for the resolution.
Article 19 of the UN Charters states that a state member may lose its vote in the General Assembly upon failure to meet its financial contributions. Losing its vote will make it significantly harder for the U.S. to achieve its foreign policy and national security objectives. Cutting off aid entirely is a self-defeating proposition as the UN remains vital to developing global support for America’s priorities.
Secondly, Israel will stand to lose a lot. The U.S. historically has fought for Israel's inclusion in the UN system as well as continuously condemned those who question Israel's legitimacy, proving to be Israel’s strongest ally and stanchest supporter. If the U.S. fails to pay its UN dues and loses its leverage in the UN system, Israel will stand alone in the face of constant attempts to chip away at its legitimacy. Israel will come under greater bombardment both in and outside of the UN.
In 2011, a Republican-sponsored bill was submitted seeking to block U.S. funding to any UN agency that elevated the status of Palestine. Without money, many UN-funded social programs such as schools and health clinics will be forced to shut down including in Gaza.
There is also a disturbing trend of Congressional actors whose support for Israel is dependent on political contributions from PACs and pro-Israel billionaires, some of whom reportedly have made home purchases in East Jerusalem for Jewish inhabitants. Senate Republicans raised more money during the 2014 election cycle in direct, federally regulated campaign contributions from pro-Israel donors than Democrats—the first in more than a decade.
Few Congress members have benefited more from pro-Israel donors than Senator Tom Cotton. The Emergency Committee for Israel alone gave him $960,000. Cotton has warned Resolution 2334 supporters that they have imperiled all forms of U.S. assistance and threatened to push for reprisals against the UN system.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said this relatively small group of very wealthy Jewish-Americans distorted the views among Jews nationwide who remain supportive of the Democratic Party and a more nuanced relationship with Israel. A 2016 survey by Pew Research Center found that the majority of U.S. Jews says the settlements hurt Israel’s own security interests.
If Congress passes legislation defunding the UN, it will hurt U.S. foreign policy, national security and its right to be heard. Israel will end up losing the political influence of its closest ally.
Resolution 2334 conveys the overwhelming assertion of the international community—citizens and diplomats alike—for Israel to stop illegal settlements that have helped incite violence and terrorism in the Middle East. The pro-Israel politicians who campaign to defund the UN will only be protecting the interests of their donors, not humanity.
Rebecca Medrano is recent graduate student at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University. She is a previous Political Affairs Adviser for the Permanent Mission of Malta to the United Nations. She can be contacted through LinkedIn.