U.S. Cuts Funding for UNESCO After Palestinian Vote

White House says approval of Palestine as member of the UN cultural body undermines goal of a comprehensive Mideast peace plan; Germany also says move hinders peace.

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The Obama administration has decided to cut off funding for UNESCO because it approved a Palestinian bid for full membership.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says Monday's 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.

Barack Obama speaking about the situation in Egypt at the White House, Feb. 1, 2011. Credit: AP

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the UN cultural agency's decision was "regrettable" and "premature" and that it undermines the international community's shared goal to a "comprehensive, just and lasting peace" between Israel and the Palestinians.

Carney added that Monday's vote was a distraction from the goal of restarting direct negotiations between the two sides.

Delegates to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization approved Palestinian membership in a vote of 107-14 with 52 abstentions. U.S. lawmakers have threatened to halt $80 million in annual funding to UNESCO if Palestinian membership was approved.

Nuland went on to say the U.S. would refrain from making a $60 million payment it planned to make in November.

But 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," the State Department said.

The Palestinians want full membership in the UN, but Israel opposes the bid. The U.S. says it would veto a vote in the Security Council.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called UNESCO's acceptance of a Palestinian state "anti-Israel and anti-peace."

"This is only the beginning", said Ros-Lehtinen. "The Palestinians will now seek full membership at other UN bodies."

Nuland expressed concern that the funding cut could have damaging implications for the U.S. By not paying its dues, the U.S. could severely restrict and reduce its ability to influence UNESCO, and act within it.

"We are very concerned about it, which is why we didn't want it to happen in the first place and why we're concerned about this move being replicated in other UN agencies," said Nuland.

The cut in funding could impact the voting rights of the U.S., since under UNESCO's constitution any member state that gets more than two years in arrears in its contribution does not have the right to vote in the general conference. According to Nuland, the actual arrearage status of the U.S. will begin in January.

J Street urged the U.S. not to cut funding, saying disengagement from UNESCO would weaken the country's international standing. "In addition to undermining our own national interests, it would also deprive Israel of its most vocal and powerful advocate in a key UN organ," said Dylan Williams, J Streets Director of Government Affairs.

The U.S. Congress is also currently considering new legislation that would impose additional restrictions on American funding of the United Nations, threaten cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority, and slashing military assistance to key foreign countries in retaliation to their support for the Palestinian bid for full UN membership.

Germany also said Monday that the UNESCO vote on Palestinian membership was likely to make it more difficult to achieve peace in the Middle East.

A Foreign Ministry statement from Germany said that the country opposed the vote.
"There is a danger that the UNESCO application will further harm the already difficult indirect talks recently begun under the aegis of the Middle East Quartet," the statement said.

The Palestinians are seeking full membership in the United Nations, an effort the U.S. has threatened to veto in the Security Council. Given that, the Palestinians separately sought membership at Paris-based UNESCO and other UN bodies.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: ארה"ב עוצרת את המימון לאונסק"ו בשל ההכרה בפלסטין



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