Calls to Cut U.N. Funding Grow After U.S. Abstains on Israeli Settlement Vote
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by Causes | 3.20.17
Following the Obama administration’s decision to abstain from voting on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s construction of settlements in contested Palestinian territory, supporters of Israel in Congress have called for cutting off U.S. funding to the United Nations.
The international organization, which receives a significant portion of its budget from the U.S., has long been critical of Israel for building Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory and in the past America has tried to stop resolutions that favor one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Following the vote, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that "As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th," signalling to lawmakers looking to take action against the U.N. that they may find a willing partner in the White House after Inauguration Day.
What happened at the U.N.?
Last week, a resolution was introduced by Egypt, New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal that condemned Israel for building settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The nations had first drafted the resolution earlier in December, and at the time the U.S. opposed it because it didn’t balance criticism of Israel’s settlements with a condemnation of terrorism and violence committed by Palestinians. The final version of the two and a half page resolution contained one sentence emphasizing the responsibility of Palestinians to curb terrorism, while also condemning violence against civilians generally.
A vote on the resolution had been scheduled, but Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and after Egypt’s president received a call from Trump. But the rules of the Security Council allow cosponsors of a resolution to advance a proposal even if the sponsor withdraws their support, and the four other nations put it forward for a vote. The U.S. was the only country on the Security Council to not vote in favor, instead opting to abstain, allowing the resolution to pass on a 14-0 vote.
As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council — the others being China, France, Great Britain and Russia — the U.S. could have chosen to veto the resolution. But the Obama administration has long felt that Israel’s settlements in contested territory are an obstacle to peace, and the countries that drafted the resolution wanted to bring it up for a vote before Obama left office in the hope of avoiding a veto by an incoming Trump administration. That raised questions about whether the U.S. actively encouraged the introduction of the resolution, a charge which Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Powers denied while defending the abstention as being consistent with existing American policy.
Ukraine had reportedly planned to join the U.S. in abstaining from voting on the resolution as a gesture of goodwill toward Israel, but after Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko received two calls from Vice President Joe Biden in December, they chose to vote in favor. Biden’s office denied that he lobbied Ukraine to support the resolution, which it has been reported he did to ensure that the "optics" of the U.S. being the lone abstention on an otherwise unanimous Security Council vote weren’t upended.
How much funding does America give the U.N.?
While the U.N.’s 193 member nations are all responsible for paying dues, the U.S. has been its single largest financial contributor since its creation in 1945 and has historically provided about 22 percent of the funding for most U.N. agencies. Precisely how much funding America provides is difficult to determine, because as of 2011 the federal government no longer provides summary reports of mandatory and voluntary contributions to the U.N.
The U.N.’s operating budget is about $2.7 billion annually, and in 2016 the U.S. provided 22 percent of that, or $594 million. It also contributed $2.363 billion to the U.N.’s $8.27 billion peacekeeping budget, more than 28 percent of that total. But aside from contributing to the operating and peacekeeping budgets, the U.S. also makes voluntary contributions to U.N. programs like UNICEF (a fund for children in poverty) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In fiscal year 2013, President Obama’s budget request called for about $417 million in voluntary contributions to a variety of U.N. programs.
Will the new Congress defund the U.N.?
Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have already signalled a willingness to advance legislation that puts a pause on American financial assistance to the U.N. if not ending it outright. In the House, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) is drafting a bill to stop all funding to the U.N. until it rescinds the resolution that he will introduce in the new session of Congress which convenes next week. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) plans to use the April deadline to keep the federal government funded as an opportunity to cut off money for the U.N.
You can use the "Take Action" button to tell your reps in Congress how you feel about funding for the U.N. and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: State Department / Creative Commons)
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