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February 16, 2012 2:48 pm

White House Hits Congressional Roadblock in UNESCO Funding for Palestinians

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U.N. and UNESCO flags. Photo: wiki commons.

Following UNESCO’s acceptance of the Palestinian bid for statehood late in 2011, the United States cut off $60 million of funding for the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, based on federal laws that prohibit U.S. funding for any group that recognizes a Palestinian state without a peace agreement with Israel.

“We recognize that this action today will complicate our ability to support UNESCO’s programs,” said David T. Killion, the U.S. ambassador to UNESCO in October of 2011.

In President Obama’s budget proposal laid out earlier this week, the White House noted that they’re going to Congress to seek a waiver on this ban.

“Any effort to walk back this funding cutoff will pave the way for the Palestinian leadership’s unilateral statehood scheme to drive on, and sends a disastrous message that the U.S. will fund UN bodies no matter what irresponsible decisions they make,” Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said in a statement following the White House’s decision.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) also opposes the President’s plan, according to a statement given to the Algemeiner.

Following UNESCO decision in 2011, the organization’s Director General, Irina Bokova said her group’s broad base of missions around the world should not suffer because of the decision on Palestinian acceptance.

She said UNESCO “supports many causes in line with U.S. security interests” and “we are helping governments and communities prepare for life after the withdrawal of U.S. military forces [Iraq and Afghanistan]. The issue of Palestinian membership should not be allowed to derail these initiatives, which go far beyond the politics of the Middle East,” she continued.

Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) agrees in part with Ms. Bokova but he stopped short of backing the White House’s propsal.

“I like UNESCO, I support UNESCO, and I fought to get the United States back into UNESCO. But I also believe that actions have consequences. We told the Palestinians that we were unalterably opposed to their effort to acquire the trappings of statehood at the UN instead of negotiating with Israel to achieve an actual state. We told the other members of UNESCO that U.S. law would compel us to withhold our funding if they voted to make Palestine a member of UNESCO without actually being a state,” Congressman Ackerman said in a statement to reporters.

“Now both we and they have to live with the consequences, which, I will be the first to say, have set back our interests in UNESCO’s work, which supports American policy goals. Maybe all the nations that chose to follow the Palestinians over the cliff will come up with the money to replace our contribution. I tend to doubt it, but I would love to be surprised,” he said.

The Congressman added that UNESCO “does a lot of good” but he “will not support a UNESCO waiver.”

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