Here Comes a Campaign Issue: The U.N. and Palestinian Statehood

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The consuming debate about our debt and the economy has obscured a major foreign policy event that’s right around the corner: Next month, the United Nations general assembly is likely to approve a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Obama administration strongly opposes this move, and is sure to veto any such resolution that might make it to the U.N. Security Council. So this will largely be a symbolic exercise. But that doesn’t make it meaningless. On Sunday, the New York Times warned that “the consequences could be profoundly damaging for all involved” if the general assembly resolution passes. The Times also warned that Palestinians will be left even more frustrated by the empty gesture (and presumably by American and Israeli opposition), which could lead to new violence in the region. And an unnamed Western diplomat told Ha’artez that such a vote would further fray American relations with the Palestinian Authority, making a peace deal an even more distant prospect.

Meanwhile, the upcoming vote is already reintroducing Israel into the Republican presidential primaries. Newt Gingrich has a fiery opinion piece in today’s Human Events arguing that the U.S. should cut off its funding to the U.N. if a statehood resolution passes.

We should be willing to say that if the U.N. is going to circumvent negotiations and declare the territory of one of its own members an independent state, we aren’t going to pay for it. We can keep our $7.6 billion a year.

We don’t need to fund a corrupt institution to beat up on our allies.

To some degree that’s Newt being his incendiary self. But this could be a real issue for Republicans in the coming weeks. Evangelical Christian voters are closely attuned to U.S. policy towards Israel, for reasons part Biblical and part War on Terror. (See this July Christian Newswire statement demanding that all the GOP candidates deliver a “major speech” denouncing the resolution.) In South Carolina last month, I met a woman at a Michele Bachmann rally who told me that the end of days is near because Obama has, in her view, exposed Israel to such grave danger. (Which raises the question of why she was also so upset about ObamaCare, most of which doesn’t kick in for a couple more years, but never mind.) When  candidates like Mitt Romney have claimed that Obama “has thrown Israel under the bus,” those words have particular resonance with Christian conservatives.

The Obama administration has been working behind the scenes to head off the statehood vote, possibly by jump-starting the stalled negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. But that likely won’t be enough for the Republican candidates. Watch to see if this issue comes up in Thursday night’s Iowa Republican debate–and watch as the candidates vie to demonstrate their unwavering support for Israel while painting Obama as weak and feckless when it comes to defending the Jewish state.

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