Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Representative for Florida and chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is one of the loudest voices in Congress opposing the Palestinian plan to secure United Nations recognition for statehood. A bill she introduced earlier this month would cut funding to any UN body that supports the Palestinian bid.
The initiative was criticized by Obama administration officials and Ros-Lehtinen’s Democratic colleagues in Congress, but the Congresswoman made it clear on Tuesday that she has no intentions of backpedalling on the issue.
State Department officials have said the bill puts U.S. ability to pursue its foreign policy goals in danger, but Ros-Lehtinen disagrees, saying that it will restore 'respect' to the UN.
"I don't think this bill is dangerous," Ros-Lehtinen told Haaretz. "I think it will build on diplomatic efforts because it will bring the UN back to being the respected body it was. The UN is an admirable organization, built upon the ashes of the Holocaust, but it became an arena for third world dictators to bash the principles upon which the UN was founded,” she said.
“This bill is not to bash the UN. It says, let's build programs that will successfully promote peace. I don't mind a good debate and people calling the bill ‘backwards’ or ‘dangerous,’ but it's not backwards to demand transparency, when bodies like the Human Rights Council are hijacked by human rights abusers like China and are used to demonize Israel,” she added.
Ros-Lehtinen criticized the level of U.S funding to the UN, saying that high-levels of funding leave little room for incentive to institutional reform.
“Our executive branch goes along, pays billions to the UN, so the UN has zero incentive to reform. We should shift UN funding to a voluntary basis, because smart withholding the funds works," she said.
The threat to cut financial aid to the Palestinians, despite the Administration's objections, makes perfect sense, Ros-Lehtinen added.
"We need to stop Abu-Mazen's dangerous scheme. I hope that the U.S. Congress takes a very forceful stand against this statehood issue. It's time to tell the Palestinians: If you are going with this statehood issue and it is granted, then the U.S. must cut funding to the Palestinians. We gave them billions of dollars these past years, but is Israel safer because of this money going to the Palestinian Authority?"
Is she not concerned that if the U.S. withdraws funds, the vacuum will be filled by countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia?
"Of course these countries can always try to fill the vacuum, but at least we won't be part of the problem, and if we fund this scheme, we are part of the problem, we are funding a sworn enemy of the State of Israel, and I don't want our tax dollars to do that,” she says.
“We are willing to do everything we can to make sides speak to each other. We think that if the Palestinians continue to refuse to negotiate with Israelis, where is the incentive for the Palestinians to get into these negotiations, unless we withhold money?"
John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, is one supporter of the bill.
"The only way to achieve lasting reform at the UN is in changing the way the UN is funded. It's a very important part of the legislation," Bolton said.
Bolton does not agree that the current U.S. administration is doing everything possible to prevent the UN vote on Palestinian statehood.
"We've thrown this away. In fact, we helped to cause this problem,” he says. “The only effective way to deal with it is to say to the UN that if they vote to recognize Palestine as a state, we should cut our funding."
For Bolton, the problem lies is in the Obama's administration’s Middle East policy.
"I said after President Obama's speech in the UN General Assembly in 2009, that it was the most anti-Israeli speech by an American president I've ever heard. And I think that since the creation of the State of Israel he is the most hostile president to Israel. I think you can see it play out in his policy, and the next week is going to be a bad week for Israel at the UN," Bolton said.
Commenting on the remarks attributed to the former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in which he called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "ungrateful," Bolton said he doubts Gates would say such a thing if it contradicted the position of the U.S. administration.
"It's a comment unworthy of Secretary Gates. This is a very important relationship for the U.S., and I think the Obama administration's policies in the region caused real problems not only for Israel, but for the U.S. itself. So that comment by Secretary Gates typifies the Obama administration’s approach. I thought it was unprofessional, uncalled for, and very unfortunate in terms of the bilateral relationship," Bolton added.
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