AJE - US condemns UNESCO over Palestine vote
- AJE - Aljazeera -
01 Nov 2011
US condemns UNESCO over Palestine vote
Washington stops payment of $60 million in annual funding to UN heritage
body after it admits Palestine as full member.
Gregg Carlstrom Last Modified: 01 Nov 2011 06:19
The US government has cut off tens of millions of dollars in annual
funding to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
(UNESCO) after it voted to admit Palestine as a full member.
Victoria Nuland, the US state department spokeswoman, said payments to
the Paris-based organisation would be stopped immediately. She said
Washington would refrain from making a $60m payment it planned to
deliver in November.
"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,'' Nuland said.
The Palestinian bid received 107 "yes" votes during a UNESCO meeting in
the French capital, with 14 countries voting against and 52 abstaining,
enough to satisfy a two-thirds majority of those countries present and
The decision grants full membership to Palestine, which has had observer
status since 1974; it allows the Palestinians to register certain sites,
like the Church of the Nativity, in UNESCO's World Heritage register.
Riad al-Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, said the vote would
help to "preserve cultural heritage in Palestine."
UNESCO membership marks a small victory for the Palestine Liberation
Organisation (PLO), which filed a bid last month for full membership at
UNESCO, like many UN agencies, is a part of the world body but has
separate membership procedures and can make its own decisions about
which countries belong.
The disconnect between memberships is rare but not unprecedented. Two
tiny Pacific island nations - the Cook Islands and Niue - are members of
UNESCO but not the UN, while Liechtenstein belongs to the larger world
body but not the cultural agency.
The PLO's bid for full membership has been stalled for weeks at the UN
Security Council, and will likely face a US veto when it comes to a vote.
The "yes" vote at UNESCO will add at least symbolic weight to the PLO's
argument that the UN should recognise a Palestinian state.
"It's good news. It's another step in the right direction," said Husam
Zomlot, a PLO member and former ambassador. "We're marching towards full
status in the international system. UNESCO is a very important
Nimrod Barkan, the Israeli representative to UNESCO, called the vote
"tragic for the idea of UNESCO".
Israel voted against the measure, as did the US, Canada and several
European countries, including Germany. The UK abstained, while France
voted in favour.
Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas official and the deputy foreign minister in Gaza,
called it a "great achievement" and said the vote "shows that Israel and
America are not dictating politics to the world anymore".
Mouin Rabbani, an analyst at the Institute for Palestinian Studies in
Amman, said the vote would make it harder for those countries to
successfully oppose Palestinian efforts for recognition.
"What they're doing is developing leverage over the Americans, the
Europeans, the Israelis, so these parties begin to take them more
seriously," Rabbani said.
Nuland said the vote triggered a long-standing congressional restriction
on funding to UN bodies that recognise Palestine as a state before an
Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached.
"The United States remains steadfast in its support for the
establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, but
such a state can only be realised through direct negotiations between
the Israelis and the Palestinians," she said.
Nuland said the PLO's push for UN recognition had hindered talks between
Israel and the PLO. But pressed by reporters in Washington, she could
not say how the UNESCO vote hurt negotiations. Talks between the two
sides have been stalled for more than a year.
The US would maintain its membership and participation in the body,
Nuland said, though it was not immediately clear how that would work if
it was no longer paying its share of the costs.
UNESCO depends heavily on US funding, with Washington providing 22 per
cent of its budget, but has survived without it in the past.
The US pulled out of UNESCO under President Ronald Reagan, rejoining two
decades later under President George W Bush.
The European Union tried to stop the PLO bid by offering them limited
membership on UNESCO's executive committee, and funds to renovate the
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.
The PLO rejected that offer, with one official telling the Israeli
newspaper Haaretz that "the EU [was] trying to tempt us with money to
sell our principles".
Source: Al Jazeera