The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is urging the Obama Administration to withdraw from the United Nations Education, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO), following UNESCOs vote to accept the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a full member. UNESCO has become the first United Nations agency to accept the PA as a sovereign state since the PA launched its bid at the UN last month, in contravention of the Oslo Accords, to obtain a unilateral declaration of statehood without concluding a peace agreement with Israel. The U.S. provides UNESCO annually with $80 million, 22% of its total budget. Under U.S. law, the U.S. is prohibited from funding any U.N. body that accepts the PA as a member. As the Wall Street Journal notes, This legislation is clearly worded and offers President Obama no waiver to get around the prohibition (Editorial, Back to Unescos Future What the U.S. gets for its money at the U.N., Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2011).
White House spokesman Jay Carney described UNESCOs decision as regrettable and premature and that it would undermine the international communitys shared goal to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said UNESCOs vote triggers a long-standing congressional restriction on funding to UN bodies that recognize Palestine as a state before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached and that the U.S. would refrain from making a $60 million payment it planned to make in November. However, she said the U.S. would maintain membership in the body. The UNESCO General Conferences action does not diminish our determination to work with UNESCO to advance U.S. national interests. Therefore, we will maintain our membership in UNESCO and our commitment to UNESCO … We are very concerned about it, which is why we didnt want it to happen in the first place and why we’re concerned about this move being replicated in other UN agencies. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called UNESCOs acceptance of a Palestinian state anti-Israel and anti-peace … This is only the beginning … The Palestinians will now seek full membership at other UN bodies (Natasha Mozgovaya, U.S. cuts funding for UNESCO after Palestinian vote, Haaretz, October 31 2011).
The PA is now seeking membership in the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency and 13 more UN agencies. Ibrahim Khraishi, the PA envoy at the UN in Geneva, said, Now we are studying when we are going to move for full membership on the other UN agencies … Its our target for (us to join) the international organizations and the UN agencies (Barak Ravid, With UNESCO membership granted, Palestinians seek to join 16 more UN agencies, Haaretz, November 1, 2011).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, The Obama Administration acted swiftly and correctly to announce that it would defund UNESCO. The ZOA is also urging the Obama Administration to withdraw from UNESCO, something the U.S. has done before when it subverted American policy and interests.
In 1984, the Reagan Administration withdrew from and defunded UNESCO, which was then perhaps the most corrupt and anti-American organ within the UN. The U.S. only rejoined UNESCO in 2003 after the George W. Bush Administration after the organization supposedly accepted a budgeting and administrative overhaul. But, in reality, little has changed in UNESCO: it has, for example, ignored American objections over a binding convention on cultural diversity which in reality serves as a mechanism to block free trade for various American exports.
In 2009, the Obama Administration joined the UN Human Rights Council, another noxiously tainted UN agency. The rationale then expressed for this reversal of earlier U.S. policy to shun it was that the U.S. needed to be part of it to effect meaningful change and promote American interests. Of course, nothing like this has happened. The U.S. presence on the Human Rights Council has not stopped the Council from curtailing investigations into serious human rights abuses in various repressive states or ending its pattern of condemning Israel repeatedly. It could not prevent the Council commissioning the biased and disgraceful Goldstone inquiry into the Gaza war of December 2008-January 2009. It could not stop Iran, a serial human rights abuser, being elected to the Councils Womens Rights Commission or Gaddafis Libya joining the Council.
Similarly, U.S. polices and interests have not been enhanced by the U.S. presence in UNESCO. The Obama Administration made restoring Israeli/Palestinian negotiations the cornerstone of its Middle East policy and the PA has responded by completely, blatantly and publicly evading negotiations and proceeding to achieve statehood via the UN. Now, UNESCO blesses the PAs defiant policy by welcoming it as a member.
Since the PA is pressing ahead to gain membership in other UN agencies, the Obama Administration should set an even higher price on acceptance of PA membership by these UN agencies – withdrawal. This would make it even clearer that there is a high price to pay for adopting policies harming U.S. interests and might make a difference when other UN agencies come to consider the PA application for membership.