US weighs UN funding cuts after Palestinians join agencies

File photo showing a meeting involving representatives of member countries at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.
File photo showing a meeting involving representatives of member countries at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United States is considering whether to cut funding to two UN agencies and the chemical weapons watchdog after the Palestinians joined the organisations, a US official said on Wednesday (May 23).

In a move aimed at boosting their international profile, the Palestinians have joined the 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 (OPCW).

US legislation bars funding for UN agencies or affiliates that grant membership to Palestine, which has the status of a non-member observer state at the United Nations.

"It has been the consistent position of the United States that efforts by the Palestinians to join international organisations are premature and counterproductive," a US official said.

"We will review the application of US legislative restrictions related to Palestinian membership in certain UN agencies and organisations," the official added.

The Palestinian move comes amid a rift with President Donald Trump's administration over its decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem the capital of their promised future state.

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN coordinator for the Middle East, told the Security Council that the Palestinians had joined Geneva-based UNCTAD, Vienna-based UNIDO and the Chemical Weapons Convention last week.

The United States withdrew in 1996 from UNIDO, a little-known agency that promotes "inclusive and sustainable industrial development," according to its website.

The OPCW and UNCTAD rely on voluntary contributions from UN member-states to fund its activities as well as regular funding for its budget.

The United States withdrew some funding for UNESCO when 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.

The Palestinians angered Israel when they became a state-party to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2015.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki this week met with the ICC chief prosecutor to push for an investigation of Israeli war crimes after more than 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, the worst violence since the 2014 war.

The United Nations granted Palestine non-member observer state status in 2012, but an upgrade to full membership would require backing from the Security Council - an unlikely outcome, given the near-certainty of a US veto.