AJE/IPS - US halts UNESCO funding
- AJE - Aljazeera -
02 Nov 2011
US halts UNESCO funding
As the UN cultural body admits Palestine as a full member, the US
decides to halt funding to the group.
Jim Lobe Last Modified: 01 Nov 2011 10:22
The administration of President Barack Obama announced Monday that it
would immediately cut US funding for the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organisation, just hours after UNESCO's
governing board voted overwhelmingly to grant Palestine full membership.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, who noted that Washington
had been scheduled to pay $60m dollars in dues to UNESCO next week, said
the cut was required under legislation that bans US contributions to the
UN or any of its specialised agencies that grants Palestine membership
as a state.
"Today's vote by the member states of UNESCO to admit Palestine as a
member is regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal of a
comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East," she said,
insisting that Washington still supports Palestinian statehood but only
if it is "realised through direct negotiations" with Israel.
Those negotiations have been held up for more than a year as a result of
Israel's refusal to freeze its settlement expansion in the occupied
territories of the West Bank and Gaza, as demanded by Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Nuland also stressed Washington's strong support for the Paris-based
agency, noting that it "serves a wide range of our national interests on
education, science, culture and communications issues" and that the US
"will maintain its membership in and commitment to UNESCO".
Consequences for Washington
But Washington could lose its vote in the agency if it fails to pay dues
for two years, she noted. She also expressed concern that Monday's vote
could herald a "cascade" of similar votes in other UN specialised
agencies that would require Washington to cut funding to them.
Despite heavy lobbying by US diplomats, 107 nations voted in favour of
Palestinian membership, while only 14 countries opposed it. Fifty-two
countries abstained, while 21 states were absent. Admission as a new
member requires a two-thirds majority vote by UNESCO's General Conference.
Voting against Palestinian membership with the US and Israel were
Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the
Netherlands, Sweden, Panama and a handful of South Pacific island-nations.
The European Union (EU), which has proved unable to unite around a
common Middle East policy, was deeply split. In addition to those EU
members voting against, Britain, Denmark, Portugal, and half a dozen
Central European countries abstained, whereas Belgium, France, Spain,
Finland, Austria, Slovenia, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland, voted for the
Both China and Russia, two of the five permanent Security Council
members, also voted in favour, as did the rest of the so-called "BRICS"
- Brazil, India, and South Africa - all the members of the Arab League,
and several other emerging powers, notably Indonesia, Turkey and Nigeria.
Perks of UN membership
The vote follows last month's formal application by Abbas, acting as
chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which
represents Palestine diplomatically, to the UN Security Council for
statehood status. The US has threatened to veto the application, which
is currently under study by UN technical experts, if and when it comes
to a vote.
The US currently funds about 22 per cent of UNESCO's budget, or about
$80m dollars per year. Withdrawing any portion of that amount could
seriously affect the agency's many operations.
Moreover, membership in UNESCO normally translates into automatic
membership in several other UN agencies, including the World
Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the UN Conference on Trade
and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Industrial Development Organisation
(UNIDO), as a result of reciprocity agreements between them.
Indeed, senior State Department officials and the US Patent and
Trademark Office met with representatives of several leading US
companies and business associations Monday to discuss the possible
implications for their relations with WIPO, whose work forms much of the
legal basis for protecting intellectual property rights around the world.
"In the last year alone, dozens of major American companies brought
cases before WIPO - the American Automobile Association, Apple, The
North Face, Costco and Facebook, to name just a few," noted former
senator Timothy Wirth, president of the UN Foundation here.
"If Palestine joins WIPO, the United States will have to pull out,
limiting its ability to steer policies in ways that advance American
economic interests and create jobs here at home."
Given the margin of Monday's vote, moreover, it looks almost certain
that the Palestinians will be admitted to other specialised agencies,
including some, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),
that are important for US national security, according to Wirth and
The IAEA, among other things, carries out inspections of nuclear
facilities in Iran, North Korea, and other signatories of the nuclear
"Should the United States stop paying membership dues to the IAEA -
which it could be forced to do under current legislation if Palestine is
admitted as a member - the United States would give up our vote on the
executive board," Wirth wrote in a column published Monday by Huffington
Post. "It would literally lose a seat at the table during the next
"As long as these laws remain on the books, Congress is setting the
stage for America's waning influence over international affairs," wrote
Wirth, who called for businesses and non-government organisations to
"take a stand and urge Congress to give the President the flexible
authority needed (to) protect our national security and economic interests".
But as Washington enters a presidential election year, the chances of
the current congress, particularly its Republican House of
Representatives, amending the legislation are "low to non-existent,"
according to Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations
at Americans for Peace Now (APN), a Zionist peace group.
"Given what appears to be an overwhelming view in Congress that the
Palestinian effort to gain legitimacy at the UN is tantamount to a new
form of terrorism against Israel, it seems like that if (the current
law) didn't already exist, the 112th Congress would invent it."
Indeed, the House Foreign Affairs Chair, Representative Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen, has introduced her own legislation that would not only ban
US funding to any UN agency that grants statehood status to Palestine,
but also eliminate all funding for the PA and the UN Relief and Works
Agency, which aids Palestinian refugees, if Abbas continues seeking
"Today's reckless action by UNESCO is anti-Israel and anti-peace," she
said Monday, referring to the Palestinian bid as a "dangerous scheme to
bypass negotiations with Israel".
But APN said Monday's vote should be "a wake-up call to Israel, the
Obama administration, and the US Congress".
"The status quo - in which Israel continues to pursue policies that are
anathema to the two-state solution and in which the Obama administration
is unable or unwilling to exercise convincing leadership to restore
credibility to its peace policy - will lead only to further isolation
and marginalisation of both Israel and the United States in the
international community," the group warned.
A version of this article first appeared on Inter Press Service news