PLO Urged to Drop Bid to U.N. Unit : U.S. Warns It Would Withhold Money for Health Agency

Times Staff Writer

The director general of the World Health Organization pleaded Tuesday with the PLO to withdraw its application for membership to defuse a confrontation with the United States that could put the agency out of business for the rest of this year.

Hiroshi Nakajima said he has no doubt that Washington will carry out its threat to withhold contributions from the U.N.-affiliated agency if the 166 member states vote next week to upgrade the Palestine Liberation Organization from observer to full member.

“We would have to stop most of the activity (for the rest) of this year” without U.S. funds, Nakajima said.


He told reporters that it is “most inappropriate” for the PLO to put WHO programs in jeopardy by making the organization--which runs public health services throughout the Third World, including among Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip--its target in a drive to win international recognition for its proclamation of statehood.

In Tunis, the PLO vowed to press its application. “It is the Palestinian state’s right to become a member of all international organizations and no one has the right to oppose its application,” PLO representative Hakam Balaoui said in a statement handed to reporters after he held a meeting in the Tunisian capital with U.S. Ambassador Robert H. Pelletreau Jr.

If the PLO succeeds in joining WHO, it is expected to apply for membership in other international organizations. For instance, the British news agency Reuters reported from Geneva on Tuesday that the PLO will soon sign the Geneva Conventions. The pacts, signed in 1949, govern treatment of prisoners of war and civilian populations during armed conflicts.

Late last year, the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s “parliament in exile,” proclaimed an independent state of Palestine, although the territory claimed for the state is under Israeli control.

Israel and the United States have mounted a drive to prevent the PLO from obtaining international recognition of its claim.

Nakajima, a Japanese physician, said that under international law, the PLO fails to qualify as a state and, therefore, is ineligible for membership in WHO, the United Nations or any other U.N.-affiliated organization. However, he said, the decision on the PLO application is a political one that will be made by the member states and not by the director general.


Ninety-four nations already have extended diplomatic recognition to the PLO. If they all vote to approve the Palestinian application, they could provide the simple majority required for approval.

However, Nakajima said he hopes nations will consider the consequences of the withdrawal of U.S. financial support. WHO has just $120 million left of its $300-million budget for this year. He said the organization had expected to get about $100 million from the United States. The U.S. assessment for this year is about $75 million and Washington still owes $25 million from previous years.

Bills prohibiting U.S. contributions to any international organization that admits the PLO as a member have been introduced in the Senate and House. Secretary of State James A. Baker III has urged President Bush to take the same step by executive order.