On Monday Palestine became the 195th full member of the UNESCO amid fears of a mandated cut-off of American financing from its budget. The vote of UNESCO’s full membership was 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions. The move will cost the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization one-quarter of its yearly budget — the 22% contributed by the United States (about $70 million) plus another 3% contributed by Israel. Even the American contributions to Unscheduled for this month including $60 million, would not be paid.
After the motion was passed, loud cheers filled the hall at UNESCO’s headquarters with one delegate shouting Long live Palestine. In a long speech,the Palestinian foreign minister, Riad al-Malki said that this membership will be the best step toward peace and stability, insisting that the Palestinian request for membership in UNESCO was linked in no way to our request to join the United Nations.
The US administration, which values its membership in UNESCO, tried unsuccessfully to keep the vote from taking place, while Irina Bokova, the American-supported director general of the organization, traveled to Washington to meet with Congressional leaders and ask them to alter the law in any way possible. Legislation dating from 1990 mandates a complete cut-off of American financing to any United Nations agency that accepts the Palestinians as a full member. State Department lawyers see no diversion in the legislation, and no possibility of a waiver.
The American ambassador to the organization, David T. Killion, repeatedly called the vote on Monday premature and said the United States would seek other means to support the agency. The United States argues that United Nations agencies should wait for a resolution of the Palestinians’ application for full membership in the United Nations as a whole and then allow it to become a part of its sub-agencies. Palestinian statehood should emerge from talks with Israel, not from acts by third parties or international groups, Washington argues; otherwise United Nations membership will change little for Palestinians in the world scenario. Washington had earlier tried block Palestine’s move to have a seat in the Security Council by using veto. At UNESCO, though, no country has a veto.
Both parties in Congress denounced the UNESCO action on Monday. Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, called it counterproductive, saying in a statement that UNESCO is interfering with the prospects for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, characterized the UNESCO move as anti-Israeli and anti-peace and called for a quick cutoff of funds.
There have been talks regarding Arab countries that make up a major part of the UNESCO budget financing to initiate a budget shortfall, but nothing has been promised so far. Moreover UNESCO bylaws seem to require that extra funds contributed to the group cannot be used for its operating budget.Ms.Bokova, the UNESCO director general, said in interviews that she was concerned about immediate financial problems for her agency, and now with the cut-off of American funds imminent, she feels that the organization might be be jeopardized financially.
The Israeli ambassador, Nimrod Barkan, said that UNESCO had done a great disservice to international efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. On Monday, the United States voted against Palestinian membership, joined by Germany, Australia, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands and Israel, among others. However the EU failed to take a common position.Some European nations, including France and Belgium, voted in favor, joining China, Russia, Brazil, India and most African and Arab states. Other like Britain, Poland, Portugal, Denmark, Italy abstained from voting.
UNESCO has a two-year budget of $643 million for 2010-11 and a projected budget of $653 million for 2012-13
News report by Adhir Roy Chowdury