U.S. Global Health Policy in Palestinian Hands?

Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, and others are engaged in high-stakes brinkmanship over recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations. For the Palestinian leadership, pursuing UN statehood and membership in UN bodies holds out the prospect of greater international recognition and rare diplomatic leverage over both the United States and Israel. Membership may bring a visible political victory at a time when Palestinian victories are scarce.

Yet, the consequences could reach beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if the Palestinians seek membership in UN specialized agencies—including, specifically, the World Health Organization (WHO). Under current U.S. laws, such a decision by the Palestinians would trigger an automatic disruption to the United States’ assessed and voluntary contributions to WHO, with no waiver provisions. That would seriously set back global health gains that matter to U.S. national interests, Israel, Palestine, the interests of many other UN member states, and millions of vulnerable people in low- and lower-middle-income countries. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out in testimony in late February 2012 before both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, one possible solution is a limited waiver.