Clinton: UNESCO Should Think Again Before Granting Palestinian Membership

U.S. Secretary of State Clinton warns UN cultural agency that approving Palestinian membership will lead U.S to cut funding to the group.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that the UN cultural agency UNESCO should "think again" on plans to vote on Palestinian membership, noting that such a move could cause the United States to cut funds for the group.

"I ... would urge the governing body of UNESCO to think again before proceeding with that vote because the decision about status must be made in the United nations and not in auxiliary groups that are subsidiary to the United Nations," Clinton told a news conference in the Dominican Republic, where she is on an official visit.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton's remarks came in the wake of the Palestinians clearing their first hurdle to full membership of the UN cultural agency on Wednesday, according to a source at the agency.

Israels Foreign Ministry responded to the news Wednesday saying that the Palestinian request for membership to UNESCO is a rejection of the path of negotiations, as well as of the Quartet plan to continue with the political process.

This move negates the efforts of the international community to advance the political process. A decision like this will not advance the Palestinians in their aspirations to statehood, the ministry said.

Israel's ambassador to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, told Haaretz that the U.S. has clearly indicated that if the motion passes and the Palestinians become full members, it will stop contributing funds to the organization. This would cripple UNESCO, as the U.S contribution makes up 22 percent of its entire budget.

Israels ambassadors around the globe will spend the coming weeks
approaching and trying to persuade various governments not to politicize UNESCO, Barkan added.

What we are trying to explain is, how and why would UNESCO accept an observer member as a state, when it does not exist as a state? he asked. It is very strange for UNESCO to admit a state that does not exist. That argument over statehood is taking place in New York. It should not be here."

Meanwhile, Barkan said, the Palestinian gambit is distracting the organization from its real and important job, and not allowing it to focus on the more urgent agenda items it needs to deal with. They are high jacking the organization for political purposes, he added.

With peace talks stalled and landmark efforts to get Palestine recognized at the United Nations inching along a labyrinthine path, Palestinian diplomats are pursuing other, potentially faster avenues toward getting the world to consider their territories a nation.

One is in Paris-based UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, where the executive board agreed Wednesday to send the Palestinians' request to a vote of the body's members.

The Palestinians are also seeking a foothold in the World Trade Organization and won partnership status this week in the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights body.