US Cuts off Funding after UNESCO Votes 107-14 to Grant Full Membership to Palestine
The United States has cut off funding to UNESCO after that organization voted today to grant full membership to Palestine.
The Huffington Post reports that the 173 members of UNESCO– the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization– voted 107-14, with 52 abstentions, to admit Palestine as a full member. France surprised the world by voting “yes,” among the “no” votes were the United States, Israel, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany. The results of the tally were met with resounding cheers and a standing ovation.
“Joy fills my heart. This is really an historic moment,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told reporters. “We hope that today’s victory at UNESCO marks but a beginning. Our admission to UNESCO is not an alternative, is no substitute for something else.”
That “something else” is full United Nations membership. Although part of the U.N., Paris-based UNESCO has separate membership rules and chooses which countries to admit without having to worry about the veto power that is so important in Security Council matters.
Just after the historic vote, the United States cut off funding to UNESCO, citing a federal law barring funding for groups that admit Palestine as a member prior to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal occurs. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland announced that a $60 million payment scheduled for November has now been cancelled.
Some 22% of UNESCO’s annual $80 million budget comes from the United States. But the organization should survive just fine; it’s not even the first time the U.S. has halted funding. President Ronald Reagan did so back in 1984.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the UNESCO vote “premature” and accused the organization of undermining the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” But that process is all but dead in the water and has been for many years. To make matter worse, Washington has never been seen as an honest broker in the process, heavily favoring Israel over the occupied Palestinians.
As for the Israelis, their Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an open advocate of colonialist, racist policies towards the Palestinians, threatened to cut off ties with the Palestinian Authority over the vote. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the rabidly anti-Palestinian Likud party, took the opportunity to denigrate the Palestinian leadership once again.
“Unfortunately, the Palestinians continue to refuse to negotiate with us,” he declared. “Instead of sitting around the negotiating table, they have decided to form an alliance with Hamas and take unilateral steps at the U.N., including today.” Netanyahu warned that Israel would “not sit quietly” in the face of Palestinian moves toward international legitimacy and recognition.
Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib explained the importance of today’s vote: “We look at this… as especially important because part of our battle with the Israeli occupation is about the occupation attempts to erase the Palestinian history or Judaizing it,” he is quoted in the Huffington Post. “The UNESCO vote will help us to maintain the Palestinian traditional heritage.”
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