U.S. Cuts UNESCO Funds after Palestine Admitted as Member

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Palestinians won a crucial vote to enter UNESCO as a full member on Monday, scoring a symbolic victory in their battle for statehood ahead of a similar vote at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, as the U.S. said it is stopping financial contributions to the U.N. body over the step.

"The general assembly decides to admit Palestine as a member of UNESCO," said the resolution adopted by 107 countries, with 14 voting against and 52 abstaining.

"This vote will help erase a tiny part of the injustice done to the Palestinian people," Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told the assembly as the vote took place.

France, which had voiced serious doubts about the motion, approved it along with almost all Arab, African, Latin American and Asian nations, including China and India.

Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia and Germany voted against, while Japan and Britain abstained.

The move prompted the United States to withdraw its funding from the U.N. cultural body, while other U.N. agencies may have to debate the thorny issue.

Washington slammed the move as counterproductive and premature, while Israel's ambassador Nimrod Barkan admitted before the vote that he was resigned to the Palestinians gaining entry.

The U.S. also acknowledged that it could lose international influence as it would lose its right to vote in the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization if it makes no payments over the next two years.

"We were to have made a 60 million dollar payment to UNESCO in November and we will not be making that payment," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

Nuland said the Palestinian admission "triggers longstanding (U.S.) legislative restrictions which will compel the United States to refrain from making contributions to UNESCO."

The United States, Israel's top ally, in the 1990s banned the financing of any U.N. organization that accepts Palestine as a full member. The United States provides about 22 percent of the UNESCO annual budget.

The November payment amounts to a tranche of what U.S. officials say is a total annual U.S. contribution of $80 million to the U.N. organization.

Nuland echoed earlier remarks by the White House which said UNESCO's admission of the Palestinians as a full member was "premature" and undermined international peace efforts and hopes of direct talks on a Palestinian state.

She said the United States is aware its own interests could be undermined by its withholding funding to UNESCO.

"Under UNESCO's constitution, a member state will have no vote in the general conference if it gets more than two years in arrears in its contribution. So our actual arrearage status will begin in January," she said.

"We now need to have consultations with Congress," she said.

"Not paying our dues into these organizations could severely restrict and reduce our ability to influence them, our ability to act within them, and we think this affects U.S. interests," Nuland said.

"So we need to have conversations with Congress about what options might be available to protect our interests," she said, declining to elaborate.

She conceded that one option would be to gain some sort of flexibility where Washington can still fund UNESCO.

Nuland said the United States is also concerned it could lose influence with other U.N. organizations if the Palestinians are admitted to them as a full member and Washington is automatically forced to withhold funds.

"We are very concerned about it, which is why we didn't want it to happen in the first place and why we're concerned about this move being replicated in other U.N. agencies," she said.

Meanwhile, Israeli envoy Barkan warned that those who voted for the resolution would lose influence over Israel.

"It certainly will weaken their ability to have any influence on the Israeli position," Barkan told Agence France Presse.

Barkan slammed countries that "have adopted a science fiction version of reality by admitting a non-existent state to the science organization ... UNESCO should deal in science not science fiction."

He admitted that the vote, while symbolic, could have a knock-on effect: "There is potential for a cascading effect of this resolution on many other U.N. specialized agencies and in New York."

For its part, Israel’s foreign ministry rejected the resolution. "This is a unilateral Palestinian maneuver which will bring no change on the ground but further removes the possibility for a peace agreement."

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas submitted the request for membership of the U.N. General Assembly in September, and the Security Council is to meet on November 11 to decide whether to hold a formal vote on the application.

As a permanent U.N. Security Council member the U.S. has a veto that it says it will exercise at the U.N. General Assembly, but no one has a veto at UNESCO.

Arab states braved intense U.S. and French diplomatic pressure to bring the motion before the UNESCO executive committee in October, which passed it by 40 votes in favor to four against, with 14 abstentions.

The Palestinians previously had observer status at UNESCO.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said Friday she was very concerned about the possible withdrawal of U.S. funding.

"This would have serious consequences, programs would have to be cut, our budget would have to be rebalanced," she told AFP.

"The U.S. administration supports UNESCO, but (the Americans) are trapped by laws adopted 20 years ago," Bokova said, adding she was "neutral" on the question of Palestinian membership.

The United States only returned to UNESCO in 2003, having boycotted the organization since 1984 over what State Department calls "growing disparity between U.S. foreign policy and UNESCO goals."

Despite the 20-year U.S. boycott, President Barack Obama now considers UNESCO a strategic interest and Washington sees it as a useful multilateral way to spread certain Western values.

The Europeans had tried to convince the Palestinians to be satisfied for now with joining three UNESCO conventions, including on World Heritage, which is possible for a non-member state.

Comments 11
Thumb cedar 31 October 2011, 17:03

Great! one step closer to get the palestinians out of Lebanon and back to their homeland. Evil move by USA to withdraw its funding to UNESCO after they made this decision.

Missing hajijas 31 October 2011, 17:41

it is a golden opportunity for China to step up its aids and presence in the UN. the US is kinda broke anyways

Missing hajijas 31 October 2011, 17:41

it is a golden opportunity for China to step up its aids and presence in the UN. the US is kinda broke anyways

Default-user-icon Trinity (Guest) 31 October 2011, 17:41

Germany of all countries in the world with some of the more respectful economies and on the ground smart and innovative people have unfortunately become "pussy-wipped" by Israel.

and their choices are immorally affected by this action.

Default-user-icon Trinty (Guest) 31 October 2011, 17:49

Germany: "ehem.. we ..would like to pass on the law and admit Palestine to Unes... SLAP !!
Israel: now now Hanz lets not get too hasty remember what your daddy Adolfy did to us some 50 years ago.. yes...
Germany: we... we .. remember.. cancel the admition.
Israel: and don't forget the two nuclear Subs you were sending our way, the check was also written 50 years ago it'll cost you 50 jewish lives, another 4 million to go ... no wait last we checked it was 6 million and counting..

Default-user-icon John from koura (Guest) 31 October 2011, 21:27

Israel is nothing without US military, political, and economic support that enables the NAZI Apartheid state to continue to colonize. Any Arab "leader" that calls Israel an enemy and not the US is not only a hypocrite, but is encouraging US support of Israel because the Arab "leaders" do NOTHING in any way of pressure to the US and other allies of Israel. These Arab puppets (like Mubarek) will ALL one day be replaced.

Default-user-icon John from Koura (Guest) 31 October 2011, 21:35

This also shows that the so called western "democracies" are run by lobbyists and special interest groups that only represent their self interests. The masses in these countries do not play any important role in debating foreign policy decisions. The reason Israel exists and not Palestine is because of power and the western empire only cares about power (within limitations).

Default-user-icon John from Koura (Guest) 31 October 2011, 21:45

Also, notice how the Arab "leaders" comments are always absent. You only read non-Arab leaders commenting on a middle east issue. That is why they are referred to as worthless puppet dictators.

Default-user-icon John from Koura (Guest) 31 October 2011, 21:45

Also, notice how the Arab "leaders" comments are always absent. You only read non-Arab leaders commenting on a middle east issue. That is why they are referred to as worthless puppet dictators.

Thumb benzona 01 November 2011, 03:24

French President Sarkozy (a jew) voted in favour/ I'm so bloody surprised. where's the catch? mabrouk to all Palestinians!

Thumb Marc 01 November 2011, 04:20

USA is opening the door for other players to contribute and have more influence... May be china and India!