First up, the attempt to sanction the Palestinian Authority was sabotaged and blocked in Congress by Obama Inc.
A series of hard-hitting amendments that would have severely penalized the Palestinian Authority, along with several states and international bodies, for the successful bid last week to upgrade the PA’s status to a “nonmember observer state” at the UN failed to pass in the Senate Tuesday. One of the defeated amendments would have closed down the PLO’s office in Washington.
The amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon budget bill, were removed before a voice vote that approved over 120 other amendments on Tuesday night.
According to Capitol Hill observers familiar with the amendments, they were removed due to pressure from the White House.
And now UNESCO and Obama are plotting ways to get back together again.
Two laws passed by Congress in the early 1990s block American funding to any U.N. body that admits the Palestinians to full membership before they fulfill their promise of direct negotiations with Israel. The aim of these laws, which worked well under three previous presidents, is to prevent the Palestinians from exploiting the U.N. as an avenue to acquiring on paper the statehood they have not yet qualified for in practice.
But last year, perhaps banking on hints that the Obama administration was exploring ways around these laws, UNESCO’s members went ahead anyway. Cheering as they massively outvoted the U.S., they admitted the Palestinian Authority to full membership. That immediately cost them U.S. contributions of more than $78 million per year, or 22 percent of UNESCO’s core budget.
In theory, UNESCO, by treating “Palestine” as a member state, opened the door for the Palestinian Authority to join a number of other U.N. agencies. But at the U.N., for all the impassioned rhetoric, a credible threat of losing hard cash makes a lot of folks think twice. If there is an obvious reason why the Palestinians have not so far pressed ahead with joining other U.N. agencies, it is that the U.S. withdrawal of funding to UNESCO made other agencies wary of welcoming the Palestinians — and lo! the Palestinians got the message.
In Paris, President Barack Obama’s ambassador to UNESCO is a former congressional staffer, David Killion, who played a part in bringing the U.S. back into UNESCO nine years ago. Following the UNESCO vote last year to admit the Palestinians, Killion came close to apologizing for the U.S. position. He pledged that the U.S. would keep trying to “find ways to support and strengthen the important work” of UNESCO.
In February, the U.S. State Department released a budget proposal that ignored the defunding of UNESCO required by U.S. law, and proposed $79 million for UNESCO in fiscal year 2013. A footnote, in fine print, informed readers that the State Department “intends to work with Congress to seek legislation that would provide authority to waive restrictions on paying the U.S. assessed contributions to UNESCO.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, UNESCO has been busy in the back corridors. Following the cutoff of U.S. funding, Bokova handpicked a UNESCO staffer named George Papagiannis to serve in the newly created role of her Washington go-between. Papagiannis, a former communications director for Representative Nancy Pelosi, is well versed in the byways of the Hill.
Peter Yeo is a former congressional staffer who now serves as executive director of the Better World Campaign, which is an advocacy arm of Ted Turner’s well-heeled and well-connected U.N. Foundation. In a phone interview this week, Yeo repeated the view that a waiver for UNESCO is likely to go through in “a big omnibus spending bill,” because “this is a strategy that’s been outlined by the president.”
Because “It’s Too Big To Read” is a strategy that works well enough, at least until people are alerted early enough about what is really in there.
But if UNESCO is funded once again, then any lingering claims that Obama is remotely Pro-Israel will go by the wayside.