UNESCO Decision Rocks International Diplomacy, US Cuts Funding
While the Palestinian Authority awaits Security Council action on its unilateral bid for statehood, it is pursuing a “roundabout” method of increasing its international diplomatic status. On October 31, the PA succeeded in gaining full member status in UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The United States, Canada and Germany voted against the move, Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and France voted in favor, and Britain abstained. The PA needed 81 votes: it received 107. 66 nations abstained or voted against the move refusing to go along with the gambit.
The action has engendered concern and condemnation from sources throughout the American government. In the past UNESCO received approximately $60 million in annual funding from the United States, about 22% of the agency budget. Now the US State Department has announced that the funding has been stopped.
In a statement from Shahar Azani, Consul for Media Affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York, the Algemeiner was told that “Israel rejects the decision of the General Assembly of UNESCO in accepting Palestine as a member state of the organization. Israel believes that the correct and only way to make progress in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians is through direct negotiations without preconditions. This is a unilateral Palestinian maneuver which will bring no change on the ground but further removes the possibility for a peace agreement.” The possibility that the decision foretells other “recognitions” of a Palestinian Arab “state” is of concern to Israeli officials.
The PA’s status will be formalized upon signing UNESCO’s founding charter. While the vote has no effect on the hard issues of Palestinian Arab statehood – borders, security, and other unresolved issues remain- the PA decision to gain member status in UNESCO and other UN bodies has brought sharp criticism from the United States.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman state that “Israel believes that the correct and only way to make progress in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians is through direct negotiations without preconditions. The Palestinian move at UNESCO, as with similar such steps with other UN bodies, is tantamount to a rejection of the international community’s efforts to advance the peace process.” In Paris, the Israeli envoy to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, called the vote “a tragedy for UNESCO” and “a great disservice to international law.”
Ambassador John Bolton’s criticism of the vote and the Obama administration was sharp. He called the UNESCO vote “true to form,” saying “So ineffective was Obama Administration diplomacy that France voted in favor of Palestinian membership, and Britain and Japan abstained.” He stated that “U.S. statutes, dating from 1990, now require a full cutoff of U.S. funding, which Congress should occur immediately,” and any attempts to change “the applicable statutory provisions” should be rejected by Congress.
“UNESCO,” said Bolton “has made its decision: it prefers Palestinian membership to American participation. Now let the rest of the UN specialized agencies make their choice.”
The New York Congressional delegation and New York City elected officials also made strong statements. Manhattan-Brooklyn Congressman Jerrold Nadler, one of Congress’s most ardent supporters of Israel, favored withdrawal of US funds from UNESCO. Nadler said “I strongly condemn UNESCO’s approval of the Palestinian Authority for full membership within that body. As warned, the U.S. will now be obligated to cut off funding for UNESCO. Instead of acting unilaterally and seeking validation at the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority must return to direct negotiations with Israel to find a lasting peace with two states for two peoples.”
On October 28, the Congressman joined Representatives Steve Israel, Tom Cole, Laura Richardson, Steven Rothman and Michael Grimm in addressing a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing their concern about the then upcoming vote, saying the action would thwart peace negotiations and cause the United States to rethink its support of UNESCO. “The United States is unequivocal in its support of Israel and will not support any efforts to legitimize the Palestinian Authority as a state unilaterally instead of through negotiations.”
Their letter followed an October 13 correspondence signed by members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, which appropriates UNESCO’s U.S. funding. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who chairs the subcommittee, said the time that she will “advocate for all funding to be cut off.”
Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney called the vote “unfortunate,” saying “the UNESCO vote increases the likelihood that peace in the Middle East will remain elusive. UNESCO’s vote gives the Palestinians the privileges of a state, although the Palestinians themselves have not done the work of actually establishing a state. This move makes it much less likely that direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will resume any time soon.”
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, condemned the UNESCO vote, calling it “reckless, anti-Israel and anti-peace,” saying “it rewards the Palestinian leadership’s dangerous scheme to bypass negotiations with Israel and seek recognition of a self-declared ‘Palestinian state,’ and takes us further from peace in the Middle East.”
“This is only the beginning.” she warned. “The Palestinians will now seek full membership in other UN bodies.”
The Congresswoman stated that “existing U.S. law mandates that we cut off funding to any UN body that approves such a request.” As did Ambassador Bolton, she cautioned the Administration against “trying to find ways not to fully implement this law, and instead cut off funding to UNESCO immediately. Congress must pass pending UN reform legislation to cut off funding to any UN entity that grants any upgraded status to ‘Palestine.’ Such strong action is the only way to deter other UN bodies from following in UNESCO’s footsteps, and to prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from paying for biased entities at the UN.”
Concern about the possible loss of funding came from UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.”I believe it is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that UNESCO does not suffer unduly,” she said, noting that “our largest contributor (is) the United States.”
Celebration of the vote came from expected sources. Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee member called is “a significant victory, a clear message to those who are trying to hold history and deny the rights of Palestinians.” She said U.S. boycott or withdrawal could result in America’s “diminishing influence and standing.”
Calling Yasser Arafat an “inimitable hero.” Pakistani’s representative called the decision “momentous,” while Sri Lanka’s representative said “Palestine’s independence is an idea whose time has come…We have in fact bolstered all the efforts which with respect towards a negotiated peace and towards the recognition that is sought in the Security Council.”