America Wrong to Target UNESCO


Yesterday, the United Nations cultural organization UNESCO voted for the recognition of Palestine as a permanent member state. Of the 173 countries voting, more than two thirds (107 votes) were in favor; 14 were against, including Germany and the U.S.; and 52 abstained. France, Brazil, Russia, China, India, all the Arab countries, and most of the South American and African countries supported the vote. Previously, Palestine held an observer position at the organization.

The news was received with jubilation in Palestine and elsewhere as it is the first diplomatic victory for the Palestinians since the statehood bid was submitted to the UN in September. The Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told the meeting of UNESCO, "This vote will erase a tiny part of the injustice done to the Palestinian people."

In response to this new development, the U.S. announced an automatic cut of its between $60 million and $80 million contribution to UNESCO. This cut was triggered by a U.S. law passed in the 1990s that allows funding cuts to any UN body that admits Palestine as a full member. White House spokesman Jay Carney stated, “Today’s vote distracts us from our shared goal of direct negotiations that result in a secure Israel and an independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security.”

On the other hand, the Israeli minister of foreign affairs stated that Israel should consider cutting all ties with the Palestinian Authority. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the vote by UNESCO as a blow to the peace process. By contrast, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the decision by saying, “This vote is not directed against anyone, but represents support for freedom and justice. This vote is for the sake of peace and represents international consensus on support for the legitimate rights of our people, the foremost of which is the establishment of its independent state.”

Now, the question that should be asked is how can Palestine’s membership of a UN organization that promotes culture, peace, education, and science be considered a threat to the peace process? One can reasonably argue that no Israeli interested in peace should be against Palestinian membership of an organization that inherently supports reciprocity, globalism, and hence, coexistence.

Furthermore, such a vote would have proven that the U.S. and its ability to use the veto in the UN Security Council are not enough to delay the Palestinian bid for statehood. And arguably, it would even be harder to delegitimize such a bid given the support it is receiving from the rest of the world. The increased hostility towards the UN will only lead to the isolation of America. One should also note that no country has a veto in UNESCO and the vote of the U.S. is equal to any other vote.

Moreover, the Palestinian top envoy to the UN in Geneva said that the vote in UNESCO will "open the door" for Palestine to join 16 other UN agencieswithin weeks. So, what happens if the dominoes started falling and Palestine was recognized as a state by other bodies of the UN? Will the U.S. restrict its funding to all UN agencies and relinquish its role as a world leader because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? If yes, then one has to say that this conflict is being blown out of proportion. 

Photo Credit: masser